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Catching The Torch: Scott Walford’s unexpected offensive surge

Stats, highlights, and updates on the Montreal Canadiens prospects from the past week.

Icon Sportswire via Getty 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 (OHL, WHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.

Scott Walford has been a minute-eating defender for the Victoria Royals for a while now. Through his usage, he was always given plenty of opportunity to get his name on the scoresheet. But, even considering the power-play and first-pairing time he got, he only managed a pace of 0.5 points per game in previous seasons. This year, playing for a contract with the Montreal Canadiens, it was time for Walford to show progress in his offensive game.

Since the start of 2019, he has done just that. He has been scoring at a point-per-game pace, which brings him up to 44 points in 55 games, a respectable total for the blue-liner that he is.

What sparked the change behind Walford’s new numbers? There are always developmental factors to consider. An increase in production is expected year-to-year for prospects. Walford is a veteran in the WHL. He has a lot of experience, and familiarity with his settings and the style of game his team plays. Plus, he is more physically mature than a lot of his opponents. Those elements are true for any Junior player spending years in the league, and other Habs prospects in their last season in the lower leagues.

But some prospects also bloom later than others, and in those cases there can be a significant uptick in production that surpasses the usual development curve. Brett Leason, teammate of Cole Fonstad with the Prince Albert Raiders, is a third-year-draft-eligible player who will very likely be a first-round pick in June. Looking at Habs prospects, Josh Brook has almost doubled his production from last year in the same number of games.

External factors like injury and team chemistry or improvements to a particular facet of the game can lead to a prospect blooming later on. Brook had a wrist injury last year, and saw his role diminish at the trade deadline, and Leason massively improved his skating in the off-season. Sometimes a prospect simply finds it in him to take more control over the game and use his tools for a bigger impact; confidence becomes the main driver of the change and starts fueling itself from results.

This is likely what is happening with Walford. That and plays turning in his favour more often, which is something he was due for.

He had a great assist last Wednesday on the power play, incorporating some of the elements that were brought up regarding his offensive game in an earlier edition of Catching The Torch. He received the puck, quickly got his head up, and found the stick of his teammate in front of the net for a deflection goal.

Walford wears #7 with the Victoria Royals

Walford has also been moving a bit more upon receiving the puck at the blue line, which helps open passing and shooting lanes, and has been reading the game for aggressive pinches, which gives him more chances from below the top of the circle.

The Habs’ third-rounder will never be an offensive defenceman, but, incredibly, with his recent productive stretch, he now stands second in points for a middling Victoria Royals team that has been scoring by committee this season.

Nick Suzuki, RW/C, Guelph Storm

Suzuki is still producing, but he has yet to reach the pace he had with Owen Sound. In the latest games, he was moved away from his pairing with Isaac Ratcliffe to act as the right-winger on a line comprised of Mackenzie Entwistle at centre and Alexei Toropchenko on left wing.

The trio has had trouble generating consistent offence. They struggled to break the puck out of their end, to give good options off of the rush, and, when did they get in the offensive zone, to find each other for good scoring chances. More than once, even in the game against Kingston which was a crushing 9-0 win for the Storm, one of them looked over his shoulder only to find he had no immediate support, which resulted in turnovers and seconds lost chasing the puck.

Trust plays a pretty big factor in both offensive and defensive parts of the game. When everyone is thinking too much on the ice trying to adjust to each other and to a different system, it can have a pretty big impact on effectiveness.

With the playoffs fast approaching — Guelph will soon clinch a spot — the team will need to figure out optimal groupings for all of its lines to get their new additions going. Right now, the overall play of the team doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the team’s chance to be a real contender in the post-season. The Storm will have to face some strong challenges in powerhouse teams like the London Knights, and the Ottawa 67’s — if they make it that far. They will need the contributions of their top elements if they hope to edge out a win in a long series.

The good news is that Suzuki can still manufacture some magic on his own by outplaying opponents in close quarters.

Nick Suzuki wears #9 with the Guelph Storm

The most interesting sequence from the Habs’ top prospect last week was probably his assist on the power play against the Frontenacs. His team was already leading 3-0 at the end of the first period and was en route to an easy victory.

The setting gave us a glimpse into Suzuki’s mentality in his fourth year of Junior. It was a blowout game, the likes of which the forward has seen a lot of. Instead of going through the motions, he found a way to challenge himself despite the lack of investment from the opposition.

On the power play, he received the puck from a cross-ice pass with the goalie a step behind the play, having slid to the opposite side a second before. Suzuki had a completely empty cage to shoot at, and the puck in a perfect position for a catch-and-release. But instead of picking up the easy goal, he turns his shooting motion into another cross-ice pass, giving the marker to Nate Schnarr, and completing the tic-tac-toe.

This is probably not something Suzuki would have attempted at the pro level, but in this sort of game at his current level, why not if he can pull it off?

Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.

CHL season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Joël Teasdale FA LW QMJHL BLB / ROU 66 43 37 80
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 65 16 27 43
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 33 10 12 22
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 62 34 35 69
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL OS / GUE 59 34 60 94
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 67 29 44 73
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle 41 8 22 30
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 62 9 38 47
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 59 16 59 75

NCAA season to date

Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 37 4 11 15
Brett Stapley 2018 C WCHA Denver 25 6 12 18
Ryan Poehling 2017 C NCHC St. Cloud State 32 7 23 30
Nikolas Koberstein 2014 RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 35 0 10 10
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 34 1 11 12

Cayden Primeau’s season to date

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau 2017 NCAA Northeastern 23-9-1 2.05 0.935 4