In a previous article, we explored how an excess of AHL rookies and a plethora of veterans are a part of a complete overhaul of the Laval Rocket franchise heading into their sophomore season.
There are plenty of well-established vets coming into the tam in the forms of Kenny Agostino, Michael Chaput and Alexandre Grenier. What should be more exciting to Canadiens fans, is the fact that a large portion of their lineup will feature young players they’ve either acquired during the NHL draft or snagged as unsigned free agents in recent months.
Two of those players are the dynamic Will Bitten, a third round pick from 2016, and Hayden Verbeek who joined the organization as an undrafted free agent in the spring. On the surface they have a handful of extremely obvious traits that make them successful players in the OHL. They’re unbelievably fast on their feet, able to separate from defenders quickly, and are relentless on the puck for their respective clubs. To add to their similarities, both players have spent time on the wing (Verbeek on the left and Bitten on the right), and also played some centre during their junior careers. Bitten has since shifted into more of a full time winger, while Verbeek played almost exclusively as a pivot this past year for Sault St. Marie.
So, what does this mean for the Laval Rocket, a team very much in need of an infusion of high-end skill and young talent?
If we delve into their OHL numbers we can begin to paint a picture of what sort of players Verbeek and Bitten are. The short answer is: they are exactly what the Canadiens AHL club has been lacking for several years now.
The first thing we’ll look at is how these two forwards stack up compared to each other in terms of shot generation and carrying the puck in/out of the zone in the OHL.
Across the board there are no areas that stick out as something that needs improvement and in many cases, where one of these players is weaker, his counterpart thrives. Bitten dominates in generating primary shot assists/60 while Verbeek loves to shoot the puck based on his shots/60 marks. Verbeek crushes his controlled zone exits, while Bitten is a machine at carrying the puck into opposing zones with control. Factor in their speed on the ice, and finding a way to mesh these two rookies together, could spell out nightmare scenarios for opposing defences.
They can both get the puck out of their own zone and into the offensive zone, while generating good shot numbers at the same time. Where exactly are their shots coming from and are they dangerous in nature for opposing goalies?
The short answer is: yes.
Both Bitten and Verbeek have made a living in the high-danger areas around the opponents net in the latest OHL season. With Bitten able to pile up shot assists, and Verbeek more or less setting up shop in front of opposing nets, the duo could form a nice dynamic for the Rocket.
In terms of production, point totals across their OHL careers are slightly different with Bitten being the more prolific scorer over his time in Hamilton and Flint. At the same time, it’s worth noting that up until this year, Bitten was a primary contributor on his teams while Verbeek played on some of the OHL’s best squads in the Soo.
Last year both players produced similar point totals, but the ways in which they tallied their points differed. For Verbeek, his shot production is the same as Bitten, but his estimated shots per 60 is much higher, which leads to his greater goal production. However, Bitten manages far more primary (A1) and secondary (A2) assists per game, while also having an edge in primary points (P1) per game. It’s a good problem to have when you have players capable of producing similar point totals, just in different fashions. Verbeek is more of a finisher while Bitten is the speedy playmaker on the wing.
So, what exactly does this mean at the professional level? Great stats are all well and good in the CHL, but how will Verbeek and Bitten fare in the AHL?
Thanks to @Ziggy_14 on Twitter (and of The Leafs Nation), we can see exactly how production in their final season stacks up against their fellow skaters across the OHL and the impact it might have on their future.
Bitten and Verbeek rank highly across the board in each category, with both having a decent chance at making a home for themselves at the NHL level. Though, and take this with a grain of salt, especially in the case of Verbeek who only began to produce like this in his final year in the OHL. Bitten has a much longer track record of being a dynamic offensive contributor and is likely to be the player out of this duo with the best shot at the NHL.
As for Laval this year, what they are getting are two extremely talented players in the offensive zone with good defensive instincts to back them up. It’s a boon for the Rocket that they’re arriving at the same time, while also possessing complimentary skill sets. Developing prospects is a task that has no straightforward path, but by surrounding their prospects with other talented picks and free agents the Canadiens are doing whatever they can guide them towards a NHL career. Both Bitten and Verbeek will be given a chance to play a major role in the Rocket offence this year, and based on what they did in the OHL, that’s music to the ears of Joel Bouchard and his staff right now.
Heatmaps and chart from prospect-stats.com
CHL comparison chart courtesy of Mitch Brown
OHL Snapshots courtesy of @Ziggy_14