While Mika Zibanejad projects to a top-10 draft pick despite lackluster totals in the SEL, Zack Phillips is probably going to go in the latter half of the first round despite managing 38 goals and 95 points in the QMJHL. Point totals can be deceiving at the NHL level, but they are orders of magnitude less useful when it comes to evaulating kids in different leagues it seems.
Phillips played on the powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs with top-five candidate Jonathan Huberdeau. He had the second best point total and PPG pace (1.42) on the team behind Huberdeau (who also a frequent linemate), but doesn’t project nearly as well in most scouts eyes. The Sea Dogs were the best team in the QMJHL last year, garnering 119 points during the regular season and a ridiculous +159 goal differential. The strength of Phillips’ team and linemates means we need to consider his totals with caution: although his NHL equivalency is the best of any player we’ve discussed so far (0.397 or 32 points) his percentage of team offense is one of the lowest (29%). He also scored a team high 15 power-play goals, which was by far the highest ratio of PPG to total goals on the Sea Dogs (39%). In contrast, Huberdeau, who scored 43 goals to Phillips 38, managed 13 on the PP (30%). On top of all that, the QMJHL is roundly considered to be marginally weaker overall than the OHL or WHL.
So the totals were there, but they come with some red flags. Corey Pronman’s scouting report on Phillips is similarly conflicted:
If you want a player with flash, Phillips is anything but that, however the late ’92 birthdate does have a couple of notable tools that have made scouts notice him. His hockey sense is above-average which is evident in how he consistently anticipates the flow of the play. Once he senses his team is about to gain possession of the play, he jettisons into an open lane to receive a pass and get the puck up the ice, yet is responsible defensively, works hard in that aspect and in viewings of Phillips he showed very effective penalty killing. That work ethic is apparent in the offensive size too as despite his frame that significantly lacks muscle he goes to the physical areas consistently. He’s a solid distributor and on the power play will occasionally flash above-average in that regard. Zach’s a solid to above-average finisher with good accuracy on his wrist shot.
The major issues with Philips which is going to really hamper his pro potential are his fringe skating and his body. He has heavy feet and despite a decent first step, the tool really lacks pro-level qualities. While Phillips did succeed at going to the net at the Junior level, he has a ton of gym work ahead of him before he’ll be ready to do it at the NHL level. While he frequently lined up at center in the QMJHL this year, he projects as a winger and I’ve seen him be effective as a left wing.
Strengths: Good offensive instincts, good work ethic, accurate shot
Weaknesses: Poor skater, needs to get bigger and stronger
Being weaker and slower isn’t the best combination whatever your other strengths, so it’s obvious why Phillips lags behind other potential first rounders whom he outscored during the year. NHL CS ranked Phillips 15th amongst NA skaters, while the ISS doesn’t even have him in the top-30 overall. Pronman ranked Phillips 24th.
Unlike many of the other targets we’ve discussed previously, it’s entirely probable that Phillips will be around when the Flames pick at 13. The question is whether his upside has been inflated by playing in a weaker league on a juggernaut team and if he can overcome a couple of obvious deficiencies to translate that offense at the next level.