From a couple of Finns flying under the radar, we go to a pretty well-known WHL kid in our #40 profile: towering Portland Winterhawks winger Paul Bittner. We’ve covered Bittner at Canucks Army before, and admittedly, it hasn’t been an overly glowing evaluation. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a very good prospect with a lot to like his game.
There’s a place in the draft where Bittner will likely be the best bet left on the draft board, and we think that place will be somewhere in the early to mid second round.
- Age: 17.86 years old at start of season. Born November 4, 1996
- Birthplace: Crookston, Minnesota
- Frame: 6’4, 204 lbs
- Position: LW
- Draft Year Team: Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
- Accomplishments: 2013 WHL Championship, 2015 CHL Top Prospects Game participant
|GP||ES G||ES A1||ES A2||ES Pts||ES Pts/GP||ES GF%||ES GF% Rel||TmG%||TmPts%||AA Pts/GP||EA Pts/GP||Adj Pts/GP|
- TmG% = Percentage of team goals a player scored in that player’s games played
- TmPts% = Percentage of team goals a player registered points on in that player’s games played
- AA Pts/GP = Age adjusted points per game
- EA Pts/GP = Era and league adjusted points per game
- Adj Pts/GP = Age, era, and league adjusted points per game
|PCS% 2014||PCS Pts/82 2014||PCS% 2015||PCS Pts/82 2015|
|PCS Most NHL GP||PCS Highest Pts/GP|
|Glenn Murray||Eric Staal|
|Scott Thornton||Jeff Carter|
|Keith Primeau||Andrew Ladd|
- PCS = Our Player Cohort Success model. Click here for more information about PCS.
Skates quite well for a player of his size, showing good growth in that area over the past two seasons…his stride is long but could use a bit more power in the way he uses his edges, especially in acceleration…footwork is still a bit clunky, especially his first few steps …skating fundamentals are quite good…at full speed his stride has good length to it and his top speed is well above average for a player of his stature…possesses a fantastic shot…has a quick release with his wrister, also possessing that heavy quality that teams like to see…understands shooting lanes and angles and how to get in the proper shooting position against tight gaps or good sticks…isn’t shy about going to the front of the net to use his length to obstruct the goalies sight lines…is good at finishing plays from in tight despite his long limbs…while he has a shooters lean to his game he’s not afraid to make plays…his long arms help him find open lanes to dish the puck…passes the puck quick and doesn’t seem to over-think things when he has it on his tape…his arm length and lanky lower body also allows him to protect the puck well along the walls…is fantastic on the cycle and can generate chances in this manner…is strong on the rush but seems more like a set up and cycle type of offensive producer when projecting his game at the next level…felt that his hockey sense and positioning were standout features for him as a 16 year old but they haven’t been as prevalent or impressive the last couple of years…still plays a fairly complete game and isn’t afraid to block shots or do the little things defensively…defensively he could still stand to play with plenty more fire and assertiveness…doesn’t throw his weight around as much as one might expect or want to see from someone who is 6’4…have seen him take some big runs at smaller players but doesn’t always engage with guys closer to his weight class…has all the tools to take over a game but continues to leave me wanting a bit more, especially in the physicality department…isn’t your typical 6’4 power winger but still understands how to use his size and reach to his advantage although that consistency is a definite area of concern regarding his overall game
Nickolet’s report goes in to more detail, and his site is an excellent resource of WHL-centric draft content. You can read his full 2015 WHL draft rankings and complete player profiles here.
A big-bodied power forward that plays with tenacity and an edge. Relentless on the forecheck and is able to bully his way to the net with his size and speed. Has a good stick around the net and has an accurate rocket of a shot. Thinks the game well and is able to frustrate opposing players while playing physically. All-in-all, an impact player that uses his size and skill to his advantage. Gaining consistency will be integral to his future success.
Bittner is a good, effective winger who complements top line players. He’s smart and reads the play very well and understands how to take advantage of his linemates’ skills and at the same time contribute with his own. A good passer with a good shot and utilizes his size to gain advantages. The combination of skill and size is always coveted.
All in all, Paul Bittner’s draft year numbers are pretty good. He was conceivably hurt by a lack of first unit powerplay time, but his even strength production was quite strong. He had the second highest even strength goal total among all WHL first-time draft eligibles, and was third in ES goals per game. He was also second behind only Jansen Harkins in total ES points, and T-2nd in ES points per game, just 0.03 behind potential top-10 pick Mathew Barzal.
If that were the end of the story though, we’d likely have him ranked a lot higher than 40th on our countdown. However, there are quite a few red flags surrounding his most recent season, and how he stacks up to his age group. We’ve outlined these previously at Canucks Army and not much has changed since then:
Bittner is much older than guys like Jansen Harkins or Anthony Beauvillier, being born in late 1996, so he has that physical advantage of just being slightly further along in his development. Adjusting for age, his scoring is still okay for a low-end first round prospect, but it’s far from great. 0.9 Age Adjusted points per game put him in roughly the same group as Anthony Stewart, Kyle Beach, and Zack Kassian, but Ryan Getzlaf is also in there. Granted, Getzlaf is a massive, massive outlier rather than a representative sample of what guys who score at that rate can become.
The big concern is that Bittner undoubtedly played in the single most favourable situation any forward in the WHL could have had: on the wing with Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand. The two diminutive WHL superstars lit the league on fire this season, with Bjorkstrand finishing the year as the first WHLer to score over one goal per game since Pavel Brendl did it in 1998-99, and Petan leading the league in assists per game once again.
Certainly, Bittner was put in a position to not only score, but score a ton. So it’s more than fair to pose the question if Bittner’s already not-earth-shattering offensive numbers were even a result of his abilities, or the abilities of his two superstar linemates.
For all Bittner’s physical tools, Corey Pronman has concerns about his on-ice intelligence, citing occasional lapses in judgement and bad reads. Cody Nickolet also mentions Bittner missing an element of competitiveness or “big body-ness” in his game, which should immediately remind Canucks fans of the ongoing battles they’ve had with Zack Kassian in this regard.
There doesn’t really seem to be a consensus reached on Bittner’s hockey IQ in the scouting community. Pronman thinks Bittner’s ability to think the game is questionable, and Nickolet thought he previously showed promise but couldn’t take a step forward in 2014-15, but other outlets have his hockey brain listed as a definite strength to go along with his skating and shooting.
At the end of the day, while you can fairly question if Bittner’s been made to look better than he actually is, his toolkit is very desirable for many NHL teams. Personally, I don’t think Bittner’s offensive upside is that great, but it’s good enough that it shouldn’t prohibit him from potentially being a Shawn Matthias-type winger at the NHL level, especially if he rounds out his physical game. 6’4 guys that can skate, shoot, and cycle the puck aren’t exactly a dime-a-dozen, even if they tend to be overvalued in free agency.
If you’re drafting Bittner in the early second round, that’s probably fair given his upside and the risks associated with him. He’s still a very good prospect with a lot of positives about his game and things to be encouraged about as a fan of the team that will eventually draft him. On the other hand, if a team reaches for him around 20th overall, that’s likely a bit of a stretch.