Will Bitten’s Proficiency at Playmaking

Six points in six games isn’t too impressive, but with all six coming in the last four games and game-by-game improvement, there’s reason to be excited about Will Bitten’s start.

Acclimatizing to a new team has seen Bitten switched back to centre, two sets of linemates, and receive inconsistent ice time. On the man-advantage, Bitten has played in two different spots, but it appears that he will stay on the top of the right circle for now. Even though Bitten’s usage remains in the experimental phase, he has already enjoyed success.

Without a breakaway goal (yet), Bitten’s playmaking has stolen the show. Quick hands, patience, and vision–Bitten has many of the necessary tools to complete high-difficulty passes with regularity. The results have been fantastic, to say the least:

Data gathered over a sample of four of Bitten's six games. Players shown are the top-four in each category. Primary shot assist refers to passes that lead directly to a shot on goal. Full data: Here.

Data gathered over a sample of four of Bitten’s six games. Players shown are the top-four in each category. Primary shot assist refers to passes that lead directly to a shot on goal. Full data: Here.

Bitten leads all ‘Dogs forwards in primary shot assists (with four per game), and runs away with percentage of all ‘Dogs forwards pass attempts and successful passes. Given the sheer amount of passes he makes, it’s a bit surprising that he also leads the team in pass completion percentage with 84.21% (second highest is Entwistle at 81.25%). Not only does this mean he’s the most-often passer, he’s the most successful and lethal, too.

It’s that combination of desire and ability to make plays that makes him so successful, as shown here:

Notice where those three passes started and finished. One crossed the royal road (an invisible line from the middle of the crease to the top of the circles; importance discussed here and here) and two others from behind the net into the slot (importance discussed here). These are successful passes into high-danger areas, and he’s doing them with regularity. Already with three primary assists all of that same ilk (royal road-crossing and/or slot-puncturing passes) and a host of missed chances, Bitten has found a preferred spot on the ice.

Bitten has also impressed without the puck, complementing his high-octane forechecking with intelligent backchecking. He has shown improved slot protection awareness by his knack for tying up lurking forwards. Furthermore, he has broken up a couple of odd-man rushes with diving poke checks. He also sits third in relative corsi-for with 2.03%.

Given Bitten’s vast amount of breakaway goals last season, it’s strange that he’s had only had one opportunity this year. This can partly be explained by his switch to centre, where increased defensive zone responsibility makes flying the zone impractical. Additionally, Hamilton hasn’t shown a quick counter-attack like Flint last season, which was where Bitten racked up the points. That could change with time, but for now Bitten is playing best after zone time has been established.

Bitten’s team-leading average of four primary shot assists per game and 84.21% pass completion rate have made him a threat for the ‘Dogs this season. There’s still plenty of hockey to be played, but so far Will Bitten has been far-and-away the top playmaker on the Hamilton Bulldogs.

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