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Catching The Torch: Cam Hillis busts out with a five-point game

In the QMJHL, Samuel Houde is beginning to put his game together.

Terry Wilson / OHL Images

Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Habs prospects playing at the Junior (QMJHL, OHL, WHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.

Last week, there were doubts surrounding Cam Hillis’s ability to produce in his third year in the OHL; he only had three points in his first seven games, a point pace seen more often from rookies than 19-year-old veterans.

Of course, it was only the start of the season. Sometimes regression to a more typical performance can be a wonderful thing for the confidence of a player. Fast forward a week later, and Hillis now has 10 points in 10 games, reaching the point-per-game mark with two impactful performances against Erie and Niagara.

The first of those two games could represent the turning point of the centreman’s season. He wrote his name not once, not twice, but five times on the scoresheet, riding along on Pavel Gogolev’s dominant showing.

Like he often has in his young career, Hillis played the role of the enabler. At the end of the first period, he broke an opposing scoring chance in the defensive zone before lobbing the puck up the ice to his flanking forwards. They accelerated through the neutral zone, and Gogolev got a chance to beat the defence wide on his way to a breakaway goal.

What differed in that game compared to other, quieter performances from Hillis in his first few games is that the pucks that were shot from his stick also went in. The centreman acted like the finisher on his line in multiple different ways: he beat the goalie short-side after receiving a drop-pass on a two-on-one in the first period, found a rebound to bang in after a scrum around the net, and sniped an empty-netter from the offensive blue line.

Hillis, like he typically does, transformed defence into offence in that game, fulfilling his centreman duties. That allowed him to come into the offensive zone a few steps behind the play, and it led to a couple of golden scoring opportunities that he and his teammates didn’t miss.

He is developing a chemistry with Gogolev, a second-year NHL draft re-entry. In the past, the Habs prospect has always needed a strong offensive partner to complement his style of play. It was Isaac Ratcliffe for a while, and now it seems the story is repeating itself again with the Russian forward.

Guelph is not in a contending year — they currently sit in the bottom third of the league — but they could do some damage to the better organizations if that duo continues to produce like it did last week.

Samuel Houde, C, Chicoutimi Saguenéens

Houde continues to score. He now has 17 points in 12 games. He has been an incredibly important piece of the contending Chicoutimi Saguenéens, one of the projected best teams in the CHL this season. Along with a freshly returned Vladislav Kotkov, he is a pillar of the formation.

Houde has honed his abilities as a centreman. Four of his points came from great zone exits that he orchestrated. Stronger and experienced, he now battles more effectively with his defencemen down low, waiting for the right times to engage and jumping on the puck only when an opposing forward looks to escape the grasp of his blue-liners.

Defensively, on top of his improved sense of timing, Houde also manages better takeaways. He looks to neutralize the stick of an opponent and then uses his body to push or hold him away from the puck, giving himself or a teammate space to retake possession and get it up the ice.

The centreman has also been supporting breakouts quite well in this start to the season. He circles very low to shorten his distance to his defenders, creating an immediate relief from forechecking pressure for them. Once he gets possession out of the zone, Houde has been looking for his streaking wingers a bit more than past years, seeking to attack with numbers and play a supporting role instead of falling to the temptation of dangling defenders himself. That was something he would try last year, even when he didn’t have speed differences or a good angle to do so.

In other words, Houde connects the defence and the offence better than he did in previous years, and is collecting points off the rush a lot more because of it.

It’s not that he simplified his game. He still has the same agile hands. This sequence against the Quebec Remparts, where he threads the puck through a bunch of defenders, delays on his offensive-zone entry, and finds a rushing teammate for a shot from the slot, is testament enough to that.

He seems to more economical with his moves now, attempting his grand displays of stick-handling when they’re more appropriate; when he has a better chance of success.

It’s also hard to not talk about Houde’s shot. It fuels a great part of his offensive play. He scored once last week by using a Drummondville defender as a screen, shooting between the opponent’s leg as he entered the offensive zone in a one-on-one.

His seven goals in 12 games are a great step up from his 16 in 64 games last season. Houde’s cannon always suggested he was capable of finding the back of the net more. By continuing to set up his release more effectively — like using the screen in his goal against Drummondville — he should shatter his previous goal total.

CHL Weekly Stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 3 1 5 6
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 3 2 2 4
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 3 2 2 4
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 2 2 2 4
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 3 0 1 1
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 4 2 4 6
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 4 0 1 1
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 3 0 0 0

CHL Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 31 15 23 38
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 31 15 27 42
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 26 10 29 39
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 27 11 19 30
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 27 2 13 15
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 25 5 26 31
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 25 4 16 20
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 30 0 3 3

NCAA Weekly Stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 0 1 1
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 2 0 2
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 2 0 1 1
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 2 1 1 2
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 2 0 0 0
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 0 0 0 0

NCAA Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 14 1 1 2
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 18 12 8 20
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 15 3 7 10
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 14 2 3 5
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 17 3 8 11
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 20 5 9 14