📝 by Patrick Williams
The Laval Rocket and forward Will Bitten never quite connected.
Now they will. The Rocket and Bitten’s Springfield Thunderbirds meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, beginning with Saturday’s Game 1 in the AHL’s capital city.
“It’s going to be a good test,” Bitten said of facing the Rocket. “They got here for a reason as well, and we’re excited for this challenge.”
The Montreal Canadiens, Laval’s parent club, had selected Bitten in the third round of the 2016 NHL Draft. Following four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, Bitten was ready to turn pro in 2018. The Rocket looked to be the likely starting point for his pro career.
But shortly before the start of his first pro season, the Canadiens sent Bitten to the Minnesota Wild for defenseman Gustav Olofsson on Oct. 3, 2018, denying Bitten the opportunity to play for the NHL organization that he had cheered for as a child.
This past Dec. 29, in the middle of his fourth season with the Iowa Wild, the St. Louis Blues acquired him for forward Nolan Stevens. Springfield, the Blues’ AHL affiliate, needed the energetic, agitating element that Bitten could provide.
The 23-year-old Bitten had follow-through, contributing 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 45 games after the move to the Thunderbirds and finishing the regular season with a career-high 32 points overall. Now through two rounds of Calder Cup Playoff action for the Thunderbirds, he has contributed nine points (three goals, six assists) in six games ― all Springfield wins.
The former Canadiens prospect is now an issue for the Laval defense corps to deal with.
“I am a really fast player,” Bitten said. “I like to be engaged. I’m always around the net. I feel like in pro hockey, it’s hard to get inside the guts of the ice. Get in traffic. Get in front of the net. There are a lot of big guys in this league, and it’s really tough.
“I think the AHL, and once you move up to the NHL, speed’s a big thing in this game. And with my speed and aggressiveness and always hanging around the net, a lot of guys don’t like doing that. So, I think that my style of play really suits the playoffs and this league.”
Most of the on-ice personnel across both Montreal and Laval have changed since Bitten’s time there, and the coaching staffs and front offices have largely been made over as well. With all of that turnover, it is not exactly redemption that Bitten seeks. There is a series to win.
But he certainly is proud of the player that he has become since that 2018 trade as he continues to pursue his NHL ambitions.
“Everything happens for a reason. It worked out for me this year coming to Springfield,” Bitten said.
“I’m just really excited to show them this is who I am. This is what they could have had if I stuck around.”
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports, and is currently the co-host of The Hockey News On The ‘A’ podcast. He was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.