Matthew Phillips, the ultimate darkhorse, stands 5’6” and weighs 140 pounds. He is the smallest draft-eligible player of the WHL and likely the entire draft class. His numbers aren’t elite like DeBrincat which means, given his size, he will go somewhere between rounds three and seven, if he goes at all.
Phillips, born April 6, 1998, is from my hometown and yours, Calgary, AB, and is a product of the Calgary Buffaloes Midget AAA program (posting 73 points in 34 games in his 17-year-old season). Phillips just finished his first season with the Victoria Royals where he registered 76 points (37 goals and 39 assists) in 72 games (NHLE of 23 – translation of 0.27), leading all rookies in scoring in the WHL and winning the WHL’s rookie of the year award. He assumed second line duty for the Royals for the majority of the season, ranking fourth in team scoring. Phillips didn’t rank on Central Scouting’s list at the start of the season or the midway point but snuck onto the backend of the final rankings, ranking 81st on the North American skater list.
“Perhaps what is most impressive about Phillips’ game is his willingness to play a style of game out of his weight class. Never afraid to go into a corner for a puck, even against much larger opposition, Phillips’ play at times can best be described as fearless. Not only will he initiate contact with imposing defenders, but in the majority of cases, will battle for and win any puck battle which he finds himself within.” – The Hockey Writers
“Phillips is a tiny, but intelligent playmaker with elite offensive capability. He processes the speed of the game very well and operates well when in motion. He is a quick, shifty skater who brings agility, acceleration and the power to escape a check in a blink. His speed combines exceptionally well with his offensive hockey sense, and he’s got a real knack for creating opportunities with his skilled playmaking ability for himself and his linemates. He makes those who share the ice with him better players.” – Future Considerations
Goals: 37 (16th)
1A: 24 (41st)
2A: 15 (70th)
Points: 76 (19th)
PPG: 1.06 (39th)
Primary PPG: 0.85 (28th)
Age Adjusted Points Per Game: 1.08 (11th)
Team Scoring: 4th (17 points back of 1st)
% of Team Scoring: 27%
ES/PP Splits: 58%
Phillips’ point production is good, especially for a player that is expected to go very late. There will no doubt be dozens and dozens of players that go before him that scored much, much less than Phillips did throughout their draft year.
However, there are a few concerns. He ranked fourth on the team in scoring and was quite far back of the leader (by 17 points). He was only in on 27% of his team’s scoring (usually you like to see a player in on 35-40% of team scoring if not more). He only scored 58% of his points at even strength. Again, based on previous data, you usually want a player to register at least 65-70% of their points at evens, as it gives you a true gauge of “this player is legit.”
For comparison, let’s use our favorite tiny little superstar, Johnny Gaudreau. Gaudreau had a similar NHLE to Phillips in his draft year (27 for Gaudreau vs. 23 for Phillips). Gaudreau, however, was four months younger and one of the youngest players in the draft whereas Phillips is right in the middle, age-wise. Gaudreau led his team and all first year draft-eligible USHLers in scoring. As well, Gaudreau registered 72 points while his team scored 195, so Gaudreau was in on 37% of his team’s goals.
Phillips is a guy everybody loves to get behind and hope that he does big things. He’s tiny and has scored at every level he’s played at and always proved doubters wrong. His numbers aren’t elite and underlying numbers aren’t as impressive as guys like DeBrincat, Fleury, Gaudreau, etc. but still very impressive of a rookie CHLer.
He’s not a small guy that is producing at an incredibly rare level (like DeBrincat and Fleury). Given his size and production, if he’s picked in the fourth to seventh round, I’d say that’s about where he should go. He’s young enough that he can still blow the doors off in his draft+1 year and still fall into line with some of the most elite tiny players to make the NHL.
If he’s around by the fifth round I would definitely take him. All that’s left at that point are low probability replacement-level players and over-agers, anyways. I would be surprised if the Flames took him, given they have a franchise superstar who is the same size, however.
Previous draft targets: Alexander Nylander | Pierre-Luc Dubois | Matthew Tkachuk | Jakob Chychrun | Olli Juolevi | Clayton Keller | Alex DeBrincat | Sam Steel | Vitalii Abramov | Jake Bean | Tyson Jost | Mikhail Sergachev | Tyler Benson | Griffin Luce | Logan Brown | Samuel Girard | Will Bitten | Cliff Pu | Taylor Raddysh | Adam Mascherin | Carter Hart | Jordan Kyrou | Cam Morrison | Cam Dineen