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Catching The Torch: Brett Stapley’s offensive burst, and Cam “Captain Clutch” Hillis’s heroics

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Forward prospects are playing big roles throughout North America as playoffs loom.

2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championships - Semifinals Photo by Bill Wippert/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

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

The Denver Pioneers are currently hovering near the top-five in the NCAA rankings. They got pushed down the list due to a string of losses against Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota, and both formations solidified spots ahead of them in the last few weeks.

Despite their recent form, the strong attack of the Pioneers bounced back in a major way against a weaker opponent, the Miami Redhawks. After only recording five goals in the past two weekends, Denver filled the Redhawks’ nets with 14 pucks over the back-to-back contests. Brett Stapley recorded a point on five of those goals.

While Stapley hasn’t led the offence for Denver this season, he still acts as one of its main contributors. He currently sits behind only the explosive Emilio Pettersen in points for forwards, and he has found a role in all situations for the team. He is trustworthy and patient, qualities that project his game quite well to the professional level and make him a great complement to any line.

While his deceptive abilities don’t equal the ones of teammate Bobby Brink, Stapley has consistently managed to attract defenders to himself to open space for teammates dating back to his first days in college. It’s a skill that translated directly from his seasons in the BCHL, where he acted as the primary playmaker on his team.

A few of his points during the weekend resulted from head-fakes and getting inside the space of defenders to force them to engage him, creating passing lanes and runways to dangerous areas for teammates.

Brett Stapley wears #7 with the Denver Pioneers

On Saturday, Stapley scored by hitting a puck in mid-air in front of the crease. A teammate skated up the wide lane to feed him the puck, but it deflected up about a foot in the air. The Habs prospect raised his stick at the right time to tip it in anyway.

The seventh-rounder is not a prospect we will see in Laval immediately, but with each passing season he continues to add some elements to his game. Continued improvements could help him write a parallel story to Jake Evans’s: another seventh-rounder who improved through all four years in college, and earned NHL games as a result.

Cam Hillis, C, Guelph Storm

We talked about Cam Hillis last week, but his prowess makes it hard to not mention him again. Hillis scored the game-winning goals in both of the Storm’s games, allowing them to chain three victories, something they have not been able to do since the OHL trade deadline.

Hillis’s marker against the London Knights came from another catch-and-release shot, an addition to the prospect’s game we didn’t see in previous seasons (something we touched on in last week’s article). It was not the perfect shot, mostly because the pass came way in front of Hillis’s feet. It forced him to catch the puck at range before pulling it back in to fire. But he still executed the motion quickly. He got it on net before the goalie had time to fully set himself, and that led to the puck trickling through the hole between his arm and body.

Cam Hillis wears #8 with the Guelph Storm

The two other points for the Habs centre prospect were vintage Hillis. From below the goal line, he found one of his teammates through traffic to set up a goal with a few seconds left on the clock, and then jammed in the three-on-three overtime-winner by rushing the front of the net.

With about a dozen games left to the season, it seems very likely that Hillis will pass the 80-point mark.

Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, LW, Chicoutimi Saguenéens

Harvey-Pinard is another diminutive forward who should easily surpass that mark — just like he did last season in his Memorial Cup run.

He had a quiet week, only picking up a point in the Saguenéens’ two contests, but he racked up points throughout February with his playmaking abilities. The left-winger has been able to capitalize on the strong shooters added by Chicoutimi at the deadline.

Many of his assists in the past few games were picked up by waiting for just the right moment to pass. Harvey-Pinard isn’t overly deceptive, but he recognizes that he needs to let plays and passing lanes develop, especially off the rush skating up alongside a player like Dawson Mercer, who has a knack for skating within seams.

Rafaël Harvey-Pinard wears #11 with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens

The Saguenéens have continued their up-and-down play in recent weeks, but there’s no doubt that they have all the pieces to become a powerhouse in the QMJHL and go for a long playoff run, especially with the eventual return of Hendrix Lapierre.

With their depth, and their impressive talent at the forward position, Harvey-Pinard should be leading another team to a Memorial Cup participation in the near future.

CHL Weekly performances

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 2 0 1 1
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 3 1 2 3
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 3 0 2 2
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 2 0 1 1
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 2 0 0 0
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 3 1 1 2
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips Injured
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 4 0 1 1

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 55 31 40 71
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 43 19 31 50
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 61 23 58 81
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 62 23 44 67
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 60 6 25 31
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 60 15 59 74
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 37 5 20 25
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 36 0 6 6

NCAA/USHL Weekly performances

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 0 0
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 0 0 0
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 2 0 3 3
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern Injured
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 2 0 0 0
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 2 1 1 2

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 28 2 5 7
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 36 19 17 36
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 35 5 25 30
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 21 3 7 10
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 33 3 18 21
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 45 17 25 42