After a surprisingly lengthy process, the Flint Firebirds announced they have finally traded their star forward, Will Bitten. Bitten will be headed to the Hamilton Bulldogs, a familiar team for Habs fans, in exchange for goalie Connor Hicks, swingman Fedor Gordeev, and picks.
The Bulldogs off to a strong start, with a league-leading 19 goals. They're getting significant contributions from all four lines, and didn't have to give up any forwards to acquire Bitten. Given this, the Bulldogs suddenly have one of the deepest offences in the OHL.
The trade also reunites Will Bitten with former Firebirds head coach John Gruden. Bitten's speed, skill, and smarts shone under Gruden's fast-paced system. Gruden gave Bitten the freedom to bolt of the defensive zone looking for breakaways and bringing defenders up the ice with him. The quick counter-attack was a key feature of the Firebirds, allowing them to make competitive games against top teams and even punch above their weight class from time-to-time (most notably against Erie and Windsor).
Bitten's speed and smarts alone opened up a lot of opportunities for Flint, and that should occur with Hamilton. Three games into the season, and one thing is clear: Hamilton is a lethal counter-attack team. From the top line to the fourth, Hamilton employs a fast two-man forecheck with an aggressive F3 pouncing on the many opportunities created. Bitten's skill set appears conducive to this style.
The Bulldogs combine the aggressive forecheck with a quality balance of skill throughout the lineup. The top line of Matthew Strome (2017 draft eligible), Niki Petti, and Matt Luff (LA Kings prospect) have been the hottest line in the OHL thus far with a combined 15 points.
Meanwhile, the second line of Michael Cramarossa, Mackenzie Entwistle, and Marian Studenic has a balance of experience, speed, and skill. Trent Fox, Luke Kutkevicius, and Brandon Saigeon bring a physical, yet skillful touch to the third line. Connor Roberts (3rd overall in 2016 OHL Priority Selection) has already made an impact in the OHL anchoring the team's fourth line. They've also been without Adam Laishram to begin the season.
At this point, it seems unreasonable to break up the top line of Strome-Petti-Luff, putting Bitten with the second trio. With the 'Dogs deep on centre, it appears Bitten will most likely remain at RW, possibly replacing Studenic on the second line to begin his season.
All-in-all, the most important element is this: Bitten will still be the focal point of the offence, but this time he will have a much stronger supporting cast in a better environment. At first glance, Bitten's combination of speed, quick hands, quality playmaking, and relentless forechecking appears to be a great fit for Hamilton.
The team doesn't have the star-filled rosters of other OHL teams. In fact, Bitten becomes just the third player on the team to be drafted or signed by an NHL club. However, with strong depth and an arsenal of talented young players, look for Hamilton to be among the top teams in the OHL's Eastern Conference this season and next.