The CHL-Russia series landed in Hamilton Monday night, giving me a chance to see some of the world junior hopefuls live and up close. Russia didn’t play any of their OHL kids (i.e. Mikhail Sergachev, Nikita Korostelev, etc.), so there were a lot of new names to take in. While this OHL squad didn’t look to have a lot of locks for the Canadian world junior team, there were some players who made great impressions and may have given themselves inside tracks for next year. Let’s shed some light on them and the rest of the prospect world’s brightest.
Will Bitten, RW (Montreal): Bitten got pretty much everything he wanted this summer. Not only was he drafted 70th overall, but Montreal was the franchise that took him.
“It was actually my favorite team growing up,” he said. “It was a dream come true. Going to my first NHL camp was really exciting and I can’t wait to go again next summer.”
The fast and skilled right winger didn’t have an ideal draft year, as Bitten was auditioning for NHL scouts while playing for the Flint Firebirds during their ownership hell season. But, he persevered and thanks to an off-season trade, he’s now playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs. Not everything was bad in Flint, but one of the positives is actually up in Hamilton with Bitten – former Firebirds coach John Gruden, who now helms the Bulldogs.
“It’s amazing,” Bitten said. “It feels good to be back with my coach and it’s been a lot easier of a transition. The guys have been really good to me.”
Bitten got a great opportunity to show off what Hamilton got in the OHL-Russia game the city hosted. He had a beauty shorthanded chance at one point, then buried an empty-netter to salt away the game 5-2 for his side.
Growing up, the Habs fan loved to watch Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev, but now his fave is Brendan Gallagher. Since Bitten is 5-foot-10, 170 pounds and willing to grind, the Canadiens see a similar track.
“They want me to play like him,” Bitten said. “And it’s pretty cool to look up to him, especially since I got on the ice with him a bit at camp.”
The Bulldogs right winger is just beginning his ascent, so he’s got a few years before the NHL, but the skills are there – and so is the will.
In the Pipeline
Victor Mete, D (Montreal): The London Knights blueliner had a very strong game for Team OHL, using his lightning speed and great puck skills to drive possession and create chances. If Mete doesn’t make Canada this year, he’ll definitely be there as a 19-year-old.
Taylor Raddysh, RW (Tampa Bay): While his skating is still a work in progress, Raddysh has an absolutely devastating shot and he broke the game open for Team OHL in the second period. The Erie Otters right winger scored on a penalty shot and then again off a faceoff less than a minute later.
Michael Spacek, C (Winnipeg): With 10 points during an ongoing six-game point streak, Spacek is heating up for the Red Deer Rebels. That’s great news for the Czech world junior team, as the WHL star can bring quickness and high-end skill.
Brandon Montour, D (Anaheim): Montour established himself as a rising offensive defenseman in pro last season, but he has really poured it on this year. The San Diego Gulls D-man is averaging six shots per game and ranks second in AHL scoring amongst blueliners with 12 points in 10 games.
Tyson Jost, C (Colorado): Straight up, nobody in the NCHC can touch Jost when it comes to faceoffs right now. The North Dakota freshman has won 105 draws and lost just 69, giving him a 60 percent success rate. He’s also a point-per-gamer for the squad, so he’s doing things with the puck once his team gets it.
Tyler Wall, G (NY Rangers): UMass-Lowell has hosted some pretty good goalies through the years, from Dwayne Roloson to Carter Hutton and Connor Hellebuyck. Wall, a freshman from Ontario, is putting his stamp on the crease early with a 1.96 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. As a bonus, his playing style is even reminiscent of Henrik Lundqvist.
Nicolas Roy, C (Carolina): With the CHL-Russia series heading to the ‘Q,’ Roy will get a great stage to show off what he could bring to Team Canada. The big, two-way center has 30 points in 17 games for Chicoutimi, but also has a nice shutdown capability to his game.
2017 Draft Stars
Nico Hischier, C – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): I’ve already mentioned Hischier this year, but the Swiss import has 12 points in his past three games, so he deserves the shout-out. Speed and high-end skill make him a constant threat.
Klim Kostin, RW – Dynamo Balashikha (Rus.): Kostin is one of the most exciting prospects out there thanks to his combination of power and skill. He was a little too aggressive against Team OHL in Hamilton, but coaches will always tell you they’d rather pull a guy back rather than have to push him to be tougher.
Grant Mismash, LW – U.S. NTDP (USHL): Mismash is one of the top scorers and busiest shooters on the NTDP, but his value goes far beyond offense. The University of North Dakota also brings a great physical element to his game, making him tough to play against.