If you can’t score in juniors, you’re probably going to have a hard time making it as a professional hockey player in the NHL. That isn’t always the case, but if you don’t have the raw talent and skills to score at the lower levels, your chances of making the NHL on the regular probably aren’t that great.
And while not every draft pick turns into an NHLer, it’s nice to get as many of them as you can out of the picks you have.
So let’s talk Will Bitten, the 5’10, 167 lb. 17-year-old right winger who, amidst the chaos that was the Flint Firebirds’ season, scored 30 goals and 65 points in 67 games to lead his team.
A smart offensive catalyst that consistently displays outstanding work ethic, elite hockey sense, and an ability to stay ahead of the play in all three zones. Very naturally gifted skater that moves around the ice with ease. Excels in pressure situations and uses his vision to predict where the puck is going to be, and proactively gets his body into a position where he can either take it away or take off up the ice. Offensively, he has a very creative streak, and knows what kinds of plays he can make in all situations; he also has an exceptional release on his shot, which he can get off quickly. Defensively, he is a buzzsaw that will not let up on the opposition, creating problems for them by causing turnovers and playing strong positionally. Will Bitten has all of the tools to become a very dangerous two-way forward that can produce strong numbers at the next level.
Bitten is somewhat undersized, but he has tremendous balance and escapability. He is a very good skater with excellent breakaway speed, and can beat defenders to the outside or turn them inside-out thanks to a variety of on-the-go jukes and fakes. … Bitten knows what to do with the puck, owning a soft set of hands and excellent hand-eye coordination. He’s one of the draft’s best at making something out of nothing, and we think he’d be one of the circuit’s top scorers had he had more finishers to work with.
Other than size, perhaps the biggest concern for Bitten is the wavering intensity in the defensive end. He’s a sparkplug in the offensive end, but he needs to find a way to transfer that to the backcheck and to play in his own end. He definitely has the potential to be a major asset on the PK and as a two-way player.
The Flint Firebirds were a disaster on many levels this past season, and Bitten was pretty much the lone bright spot. His 65 points saw him factor into 36% of the Firebirds’ scoring, and it needs to be pointed out that they were one of the worst teams in the OHL. Only four teams don’t make the playoffs; Flint was one of them. They were ahead of the Guelph Storm in their own division, and that’s it.
Bitten scored 30 goals; only two other guys on his team even reached the 20 mark. He had 65 points; second in team scoring was Ryan Moore, who had 48 points. Bitten – who doesn’t turn 18 until July 10 – was the offence.
Consider: 50 of his 65 points were primary. Forty-two of his points came at even strength, and 37 of those points were primary.
Roughly 57% of Bitten’s total offence comprised of even strength primary points. Considering the disastrous state his team was in, it was all the more impressive he was the one doing most of the generating.
Fit with the Flames
I know he’s small – apparently I have a thing for profiling smaller forwards – but he’s a young, impactful right winger who can carry a team and put the puck in the net, even when playing in an unideal situation. That’s a good indication of character.
That, and the passion scouting reports say he has. He doesn’t just score; he’s a pain to deal with defensively, as well. If he can figure out that part of the game, as well as how to ensure his size isn’t a disadvantage, the he could turn into a real gem for an NHL team. A better Paul Byron, perhaps?
Bitten is ranked from a late first round pick to a second round guy. His size, combined with the situation in Flint, will likely see him drop some spots. The Flames currently have three second round picks – and if he’s still around for the later ones, he could be an absolute steal.
Depending on who’s still available at 35th overall, he might even be a consideration there as well.
Previous draft targets: Alexander Nylander | Pierre-Luc Dubois | Matthew Tkachuk | Jakob Chychrun | Olli Juolevi | Clayton Keller | Alex DeBrincat | Sam Steel | Vitalii Abramov | Jake Bean | Tyson Jost | Mikhail Sergachev | Tyler Benson | Griffin Luce | Logan Brown | Samuel Girard