There are very few prospects in the Montreal Canadiens’ pool who show as much heart on the ice as William Bitten. His drive is unquestionable. More than a few times this season, I was left wondering how he could still be going all-out after roaming the entire length of the ice a few times and landing a couple of hits earlier in the shift. He would still skate hard to get to the puck first and try to put it in the back of the net.
Bitten might only be 5’10”, but he plays like he is 6’4”. Self-preservation is not necessarily a priority for him, and he is always willing to battle in front of the cage and along the boards to generate scoring opportunities for himself and especially for others.
Those qualities make him very likable and an easy player to root for. They are also big reasons why he will be appreciated by any coach he plays under. The question for Bitten is not one of his character, but more of his offensive contribution as he reaches the next level.
After a slow start to the season, he had a long stretch were he was producing better than a point per game before falling back to earth at the end of the season and in the playoffs.
The voters remain confident in Bitten’s ability. No ranking was outside the top 20, which is a first occurrence for a prospect in this year’s Top 25 Under 25, and he sees the smallest range of any player outside the top 10. The EOTP vote of 19 for Bitten was the closest the averaged community ballot came to holding an outlier rank for any of the players who will be profiled.
At 18, I was one of the more conservative panellists. My reasoning is similar to that for Josh Brook: progression is as important as tools. The ex-Hamilton Bulldogs forward had a good season, but he didn’t exceed expectations by any means. He broke the point-per-game mark, but only scored two more points than in his draft year, albeit in five fewer games.
The statistical improvement wasn’t really there year-to-year for the forward. Bitten almost always found ways to contribute to his team’s offence regularly, but he never really blossomed into a top player in the OHL. It was something that was within his reach given his skill set.
Top 25 Under 25 History
His ranking history mirrors that consistency. Bitten’s rank has been largely unchanged since he was drafted, moving from #14 to #15, and back to #14 this summer.
Something to keep in mind, however, is that with the state of the current prospect pool, reaching a rank of 14 is a more impressive feat than it has been in recent years.
Bitten’s game is fueled by his skating ability. If he was even a tad slower, his intense checking play wouldn’t work nearly as well for him. He can create offence by pressuring the opposing defencemen deep in their zone, but also by jumping out of the defensive zone on the breakout to catch blue-liners flat-footed. He creates odd-man rushes and breakaways, something he was famous for in his draft year and which remained a strength all the way to the end of his Junior career.
Bitten is quick, but he is also strong and balanced. Another facet of his skating that helps him generate offence is how hard he is to move along the boards, giving him solid puck protection. His elusiveness and agility also contribute to his ability to resist and escape defenders; he can make some pretty hard cutbacks to turn to face the play to find a teammate in the slot or drive the net for a shot.
That being said, Bitten remains more of a playmaker. He looks for the pass first and only when there is no other option does he seem to shoot.
The forward is deceptive and quick in his puck distribution game, which helps him connect on a great amount of dangerous passes. Cross-ice feeds are common when watching him play, and he is especially threatening while on the power play.
With the Bulldogs, the Canadiens third-rounder had a great set play with Matthew Strome. By faking a shot and freezing the defence, he consistently managed to reach his teammate at the doorstep, turning his firing motion into a precise slap-pass that hit the stick of Strome to be easily deflected in the net.
Bitten’s playmaking also grew off the rush this season. With the usage of hard stops and drop passes, he managed to find trailing teammates with a lot of space to create shots on net upon entering the offensive zone.
On the defensive side of the puck, Bitten was effective on the penalty kill this season, working tirelessly (like he always does) and showing a good understanding of how to limit opposing players. With his quick feet, he also remained a threat to create offence even while outnumbered.
Bitten has shown that he can play both at wing and centre, even if he seems to have a preference for being slotted down the middle. It’s another reason why he will be liked by coaches in his professional career.
While he has a 30-goal season under his belt with the Flint Firebirds and has displayed some ability to catch and release off the rush at times, Bitten doesn’t have a consistently good shot and has some trouble finishing off plays, which was a real problem considering the amount of grade-A chances he had.
He isn’t a sniper by any means, preferring to use a short-wind-up slapper that is effective in keeping the shot low to create rebounds but not in beating goalies cleanly. On his breakaways this season, he didn’t always use his skilled hands to make the netminder move before trying to slide the puck in.
As previously mentioned, the skill and chances are there for Bitten, but the results haven’t always followed. Some of it was bad luck this season — he was shooting at an absurdly low percentage for a long period of time — but there were also stretches where he wasn’t generating the chances he is capable of, including a long stint in his team’s road to the Memorial Cup. He played down in the lineup, but should still have been creating more offence for his team. Being a good checker won’t be enough in his road to the NHL.
His play away from the puck will also need some adjustment as he transitions from always being ready to gun out of the zone to a more stop-and-start style of defence.
Despite what the statistical projections say, Bitten has the ability to reach the NHL and contribute as a middle-six forward, more likely on the third line. He projects as someone who can play up and down the lineup on a given night depending on the team’s need, and be of help on the penalty kill.
He probably won’t be a heavy point-producer, but will be a player that fits the current NHL very well with his speed, tenacity, and good base of skill.
He could complement talented linemates with his playmaking ability and could even earn a role on a power play. Deep in the offensive zone, he could be of great use making one-touch passes to his teammates for point-blank chances directly at the doorstep.
He will likely require a couple of seasons in the AHL before he can play a role like this consistently with the Habs, but with his work ethic and desire to improve, there is no reason to bet against him.