2017 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #10 William Bitten

Will Bitten in his natural habitat… | Photo: Cathie Coward, The Hamilton Spector

At first glance of the statistics, William Bitten had a season of regression. A 30-goal scorer on a Flint Firebirds team that gained infamy for the side show entered the season with plenty of hype. This was only escalated after a trade to the Hamilton Bulldogs, a better team, reuniting Bitten with head coach John Gruden.

Bitten saw his P/GP pace drop by 0.09 to 0.88, and he scored seven less goals than last season. Bitten got points on 26% of his team’s goals–still an impressive total, but far from the 36% he recorded last season.

There are structural reasons why Bitten’s production dropped. For example, he scored exactly zero breakaways after racking up half of his 30 that way last season.

Bitten’s season was an evolution of sorts, from a breakaway machine to a Brendan Gallagher-esque finisher while improving his defensive game and maintaining his deft playmaking ability.

#10) WILLIAM BITTEN
Midseason: #8 | 2016: #7
Acquired: 2016, 3rd round, 70th overall
Position: RW/C | Shoots: R
Birthdate: 1998-07-10 | Nationality: Canada
Team: Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
Height: 5’10 (178cm) | Weight: 168 lbs (76kg)

GPGAPP1SOGSH%G/GP1A/GPP/GPP1/GP5v5 P1/GPSOG/GPHD+MD SOG/GPTM.INV%GF.Rel%
652334574817213.37%0.350.380.880.740.512.651.3126%6.91%

Series Navigation:
Top 30 Prospects: Ranking Methodology – Integrating Statistics into Analysis
Top 30 Prospects: #30 – #26 – Success Rates of Swedish Jr. and USHS Defenders
Top 30 Prospects: #25 – #21 – Success Rates of CHL Overage Forwards
Top 30 Prospects: #20 – #16 – Balancing Players with Opposing Skill Sets and Development
Top 30 Prospects: #15 – #11 – Weighing perceived NHL-readiness with NHL Upside
Top 30 Prospects: #10 Will Bitten – Why His Season Was Better Than You Think
Top 30 Prospects: #9 Victor Mete – How Undersized Defenders Can Excel Defensively
Top 30 Prospects: #8 Josh Brook – Improving Shooting Location Through Movement
Top 30 Prospects: #7 Michael McCarron – Do Big Players Really Take Longer to Develop?
Top 30 Prospects: #6 Charlie Lindgren – The Reverse-VH and When Skill Takes Over
Top 30 Prospects: #5 Charles Hudon – A Case Study on the Impact of Aging for NHL Chances
Top 30 Prospects: #4 Joni Ikonen – Multidimensionality in Attack
Top 30 Prospects: #3 Nikita Scherbak – Comparing Scherbak In and Out of Form
Top 30 Prospects: #2 Noah Juulsen – How to Excel at Defending the Blue Line
Top 30 Prospects: #1 Ryan Poehling – Full Breakdown, Importance of Little Details, and More

The Changes

Bitten had one of those hard-to-explain seasons of little statistical progression, but there two specific elements, structural reasons and luck that I think played a big role.

(1) Structural: After employing a fast counterattack structure based on the lethal chemistry Bitten and Ryan Moore, John Gruden turned a larger, deeper Hamilton forward core focus to more on establishing offensive zone pressure. This started with a collapsing defensive zone structure that emphasized full-team breakouts.

Additionally, Bitten played a fair bit of centre this season. Playing his position properly (and adequately) meant that he was sitting deeper in the defensive zone, and having to exit the zone with defenders in front of him.

As a result, Bitten wasn’t just unlucky on breakaways, he was getting far fewer as he was unable to fly the defensive zone at will like previously.

It seemed that Bitten’s linemates often struggled to capitalize on many of the chances he was creating. It became apparent that Bitten never really developed chemistry with his linemates like he did with Ryan Moore the previous year.

There were also some quirks on the PP, where Bitten was first tired a half of a two-man screen system, then used as the high-slot man in a standard umbrella formation. Given Bitten’s strength as a playmaker, I found it surprising that he was routinely placed in positions where he playmaking ability was minimized.

(2) Luck: Is scoring 15 breakaway goals in a season sustainable? Bitten’s SH% was over 20% in 2015-16, which isn’t crazy high for top OHL scorers, but still worthwhile questioning. This season, Bitten’s SH% dipped to 13.4%, slightly above the league average of 11.5%, but one of the lowest rates among the league’s 77 20-goal scorers. Only one other 20-goal scorer had a lower SH% from LD shooting areas, which indicates that Bitten was generally unlucky this season when it came to scoring goals from far away. Holding all other factors constant, if Bitten shot the average of 9.19% from LD areas, he would’ve potted five extra goals (28 in total).

To top it off, Bitten’s SOG/GP increased by 0.47 to 2.65, while he shooting from HD and MD areas at a higher rate than previous.

The Evolution

It was right around game 22 that Bitten found his scoring groove. He scored 14 goals over 20 games. Some of them were Bitten fearlessly flying into the crease, others were skillful finishes showing off slick hands and a quick release. But virtually all of them, and this is true for the rest of the goals he scored this season, were converted around the blue paint.

Bitten scored just a smidgen below the OHL’s 80th percentile in HD+MD SOG/GP; however, he’s only a medium-volume shooter overall. This indicates that he’s hesitant to shoot from far out, but put him around the net, and he will make you pay.

The Progression

It’s only a positive development that Bitten is showcasing an ability to score from close up. This is generally what scouts refer to as “NHL goals,” which presumably comes with an improved level of scoring translation to the NHL.

While the majority of Bitten’s statistics took a tumble, his GF Relative % improved by over seven percent, giving him one of the best marks on his team. And it shows, as evident by his GF% With-Without-You Splits.

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All six of Bitten’s most common linemates were either better with him, or Bitten was better without them.

This trend is even more noticeable in the defencemen playing behind him, as the three defenders that Bitten played with all received big boosts in their GF% while Bitten was on the ice with them.

Essentially, Bitten had a net positive effect on his teammates–they were generally better with him than without. So, while Bitten’s production dropped and he wasn’t the team’s scoring leader, he was pushing the pace in terms of GF%, perhaps more so than any other forward.

The Report

As discussed, Bitten has become quite the finisher around the goalmouth. He’s one of those skillful battlers, who pounces on opportunities. His hand-eye coordination around the net is impressive, but even more impressive is ability to receive tricky passes without breaking stride. He added a slapshot to his arsenal with a quick windup, with which he hammered a few posts.

Bitten remained an effective playmaker with a powerful, accurate saucer pass, but it seemed that his teammates finished at an abnormally low rate. Once best off the rush, now equally as good at connecting from behind the net. He can dish off the backhand, but he’s doesn’t mask his passes enough. While his SOG/GP improved significantly, he still owns a tendency to pass out of high-scoring areas to a teammate with a lower-percentage shot. This is particularly troublesome because he owns an accurate wrist/snap combination with a deceptive release.

Don’t be fooled by Bitten’s stature and slight frame, he’s incredibly strong in battles. He battles just like Brendan Gallagher, but adds in a legitimate mean streak with big-time hits (sometimes dirty). So much so, that he will occasionally pass up an easy retrieval to send a message. When entering battles, he smartly takes away the feet of larger players to limit their mobility, and then frees the puck for a teammate.

The endless motor was channeled more this season, as he became a more positional forechecker and defensive player. He’s a demon on the forecheck, utilizing his hand-eye coordination, explosive speed, and a willingness to throw the body to create turnovers.

The typical Bitten shift goes like this: Forecheck like crazy until forcing a turnover, make deft play to create a scoring chance, then hustle to prevent rush, and mix in a huge hit in the mix for good measure.

There are some interesting tool-based quirks to Bitten’s game that, with minor tweaking, could result in an offensive explosion next season. First, Bitten is a straight-ahead skater—which makes sense given his breakaway gear. But, he attacks defenders straight-ahead with limited crossovers, which is relatively easy to defend. This is only amplified by his narrow-base stickhandling. He has shown the ability to diversify his attacks, which he needs to do more often.

Bitten is also quite reliant on dump-ins, with an above team average 36% dump-in rate on entry attempts. While his speed and forechecking ability make him the second-most effective Bulldog at retrieving these, given his skill set, utilizing controlled entries more often is likely ideal.

Bitten brings the total package of skills, even if they’re not necessarily high-end. He’s such a relentless player with a quality skill level. He’s not particularly flashy, and while it’s more of an exploitative threat than a true space creator, he has the appropriate skill set and turbocharged speed to exploit space at the highest of levels.

Ranking Explanation: Placing Bitten above Jacob de la Rose and Jake Evans wasn’t easy. Bitten’s OHL production has reached a higher level than most of de la Rose’s scoring history, but isn’t up to par with Evans’s. Ultimately, I see one player who is closer to the NHL, but of lesser upside, and two players of similar skill level (Bitten and Evans), so let’s discuss them.

I consider both Evans and Bitten to be more space exploiters than true creators, and both have the tools to exploit lanes at the NHL level. Considering the pace that Bitten plays with, I believe that Bitten has a better chance of becoming a scorer in the NHL.

Bitten is outrageously fast, much quicker than Evans off the hop, and certainly quicker with the puck. While Bitten may not meander his way through traffic and tight spaces like Joni Ikonen and Ryan Poehling do to create lanes, he’s so quick that his speed creates space for him. Take this play, for example:

Bitten takes a hard loose puck, and deftly touches it to his forehand while slowing it down. This enables him to head up the ice without breaking stride. Since he’s absurdly quick, he can afford to cut laterally to gain support for a rush without having the backcheckers catch him. Once he opens his stride up, he’s gone, and creates a three-on-one in the process. Bitten’s nasty saucer pass turns into a slick goal, and that’s Creating Space with Speed 101 with the inclusion of complementary tools (i.e., pass reception, awareness to cut laterally, etc).

Bitten plays with this intensity in every situation, across the ice. He’s turbocharged on every puck, and makes decisive decisions.

That’s not to says Evans isn’t a capable scorer, but he lacks the speed and pace that Bitten brings. While Evans likely brings greater defensive value as a centre, I believe Bitten is stronger and more capable in battles. Plus Bitten’s a better finisher that will get chances due to his speed.

While Evans is an elite playmaker in Hockey East, Bitten isn’t too far off in the OHL. Bitten’s estimated primary assists per 60 (eA1/60) on prospect-stats.com ranked 16th among all OHL forwards, ahead of a smattering of top-end talent like Jeremy Bracco, Alex DeBrincat, Nick Suzuki, Blake Speers, and Gabriel Vilardi.

So, given a more projectable game and limited difference in their skill level, I leaned Bitten over Evans. But, with still greater questions (notable an offensive breakout), I remain slightly cautious on Bitten relative to what I perceive his skill level to be, so he’s right in the middle of Tier 3.

Tier 3: A grouping composed of prospects with third line or lower-end second pairing upside, still with major questions IF they will come close to attaining that. 

Notes:

  1. All the information is “in my opinion.
  2. The ranking likely has limited-to-no value. Think of the ranking as a way to catalogue players, notes, and data in a non-alphabetical way. The information within the profiles is far, far more valuable.
  3. I mentioned I’m not a scout right? If not, I’m not a scout.
  4. I appreciate all questions, comments, and criticism. You can reach me on Twitter (@MitchLBrown) or email (mitchbrown31@gmail.com). You can also tell me I suck. I don’t care.
  5. AHL/CHL/USHL Stats: Prospect-Stats.com | NCAA Stats: CollegeHockeyInc.com | SuperElit Stats: Stats.SweHockey.se | NHL Stats: Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com

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