Will Bitten has seen some stuff, man. Though immensely talented and beaming with promise, the 2017 draft prospect just survived most bizarre seasons a franchise has ever endured in the rich history of the Canadian Hockey League.
The Flint Firebirds were a trainwreck last season. The team’s owner fired their coach after he refused to play his son often enough. The team walked out on ownership. Ownership was then forced to re-hire said coach by the league, before inevitably firing him before the end of the season. The league then enforced suspensions, fines and other punitive measures as a result. Did I mention this was their inaugural season, too?
Throughout all this, Bitten remained defiantly productive and showcased high-end talent and poise as the rock that kept the Firebirds ship from washing ashore entirely. As Jeff Marek so aptly described the situation for Bitten on an episode of his junior hockey podcast, “he was everything for that hockey team”. That’s high praise for a 17-year-old. Bitten wasn’t underserving of the distinction though and we’ll explain why as we introduce him as the 28th ranked prospect in our profile series.
- Age: 17, 1998-07-10
- Birthplace: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
- Frame: 5’10”, 163 lbs.
- Position: C
- Handedness: R
- Draft Year Team: Flint Firebirds, OHL
- Accomplishments/Awards: 2011/12 OEMBHL Champion, Most Goals, Most Assists, Most Points. 2013/14 HEO Player of the Year, OHL Gold Cup Most Points. 2015/16 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Gold, CHL Top Prospects Game
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In what was a disastrous season for Flint, Bitten was a bright spot who stood out as one of the CHL’s top 17-year-old forwards. He’s an explosive skater who brings a lot of energy to every shift due to his speed and competitiveness. He’s also a skilled offensive player who can make high difficulty plays with the puck and shows creativity with his passes. He can force some plays and could smarten up on a few decisions, but overall, he is a big net positive offensively. His defensive play rates as solid and improved a fair amount as the season went on, to the point that he was a critical defensive player for Canada at the under-18 world championship. Bitten shows the speed and work ethic to be a fine penalty killer, and though he’ll occasionally cheat off his man on the point, overall he plays with the intensity you want in a checker.
Captaining a poor team in a bad situation as a 17-year-old, Will Bitten has been a driving force for the Flint Firebirds in the 2015-16 season despite his smaller stature. Used in all situations, Bitten’s stats might not show all of the skill and heart the young man brings to the table as he was leaned on very heavily this past year to play in every situation. With exceptional playmaking ability, saucer passes, and elite on-ice vision, many of Bitten’s best plays didn’t result in goals due to the below average team around him. A sneakily quick skater with excellent lateral mobility and shiftiness, Bitten likes to dance around defenders and find open lanes before releasing his quick wrist shot. Able to deke goalies with little or no space, Bitten’s hands are some of the best in this draft class, but questions about his future will remain for now because of his slight build.
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. – See more at: http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=245965#sthash.I8ffDbj2.dpuf
Drafted seventh overall into the OHL by Plymouth .. part of Flint team that walked out after coaching staff was fired .. scored a big goal in Canada’s Group A action against Sweden in this summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament on route to a gold medal .. registered 11 points in five-game streak to start the month of November .. smooth skater who isn’t afraid to hop up into the rush, carry the puck deep into the offensive zone or take it to the net .. works effectively along the boards .. hits extremely hard, can level players with their heads down but needs to avoid leaving his feet .. stops up or twists and turns when gap closes which allows him to hang onto the puck and create with his skill .. extremely quick on his edges, buzzes around the ice .. can be aggressive with his stick and will be prone to taking slashing and hooking penalties if he doesn’t curb it .. needs to work on his faceoffs, gets out-muscled in the circle .. has the skill to be a top 20 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Though an undersized, playmaking centre, Bitten possesses many of the traits that foster development at all ends of the rink. His anticipation and ability to process the game at lightspeed especially. That’s part of Bitten’s allure. I don’t foresee Bitten fighting annually for the Selke trophy, but his offensive proficiency comes at no expense to his defensive responsibilities. That’s rare a trait for junior players, but most especially 17-year-olds.
Bitten has played premier roles for multiple teams this season, starring on the first line for Flint and playing right wing for Team Canada at the U18 World Hockey Championships alongside Tyson Jost on the first line. There’s also the matter of special teams play, where Bitten often finds himself in a starring role in all phases.
Finding flaws in his game can be difficult. There aren’t any real glaring areas of concern. Being a 5’10” centre certainly doesn’t help, but Bitten packs a mean punch and often throws it well above his weight class. You’d like it if Bitten would shoot more, but almost in the same way you’d like a Henrik Sedin or a Joe Thornton (not making a comparison here) to shoot more — they wouldn’t be who they are if they had a shoot-first mentality, but damn, there are moments.
I’d like to think that Bitten’s offensive production undersells his ability. Were Bitten born two months later, we’re talking about a 2017 draft eligible player. Even the smallest difference in age matters at this stage of player’s development, so that’s worth accounting for as we glean Bitten’s offensive contributions and what they might indicate about his long-term prospects of developing into a bona fide NHL centre.
I don’t want to understate the importance of height, and especially at Bitten’s position, centre. That said, if Bitten were another two inches taller there isn’t a hope in hell he falls past 20. He’ll need to add some bulk to his frame. Especially when professional hockey comes calling. As is though, Bitten represents an intriguing gamble with the potential to develop into a solid, two-way contributor in the middle of some lucky team’s lineup. That’s about all you can ask for from prospects in his range.