Mighty mite Matthew Phillips might be Calgary’s top prospect

You could be forgiven if you saw Matthew Phillips out of his hockey equipment and didn’t immediately think he was a high-end National Hockey League prospect. Listed by the Western Hockey League as 5’6″ and 141 pounds – he reports he’s currently 145 pounds – Phillips does not look like your prototypical hockey star off the ice.

But his on-ice talent was on full display earlier this week as he and the Victoria Royals eviscerated the Calgary Hitmen by a 7-2 score. In his first appearance in his hometown team’s barn since they drafted him in the sixth round of the 2016 NHL Draft, Phillips had four points – including a hat trick, his second in as many nights.

With the graduation of 2016 first rounder Matthew Tkachuk to the full-time NHL ranks, there’s a strong case to be made that Phillips may already be the Flames’ top prospect.

The really interesting thing about Phillips – aside from his lack of size – has been his progression through the hockey ranks over the past several seasons.

Rate Pts
2011-12 13 Calgary Bisons Bantam 18 0.581 26 0.839
2012-13 14 Calgary Bisons Bantam 40 1.212 77 2.333
2013-14 15 Calgary Buffaloes Midget 15 0.455 35 1.061
2014-15 16 Calgary Buffaloes Midget 33 0.971 73 2.147
2015-16 17 Victoria Royals WHL 37 0.514 76 1.056
2016-17 18 Victoria Royals WHL 35 0.761 59 1.283

Every season since he’s been 13 – and probably before then, Elite Prospects doesn’t keep numbers that far back – Phillips has increased his offensive production. The other kids are bigger? Doesn’t matter. He’s graduating to a higher level? Doesn’t matter. He keeps improving.

He’s tearing up the WHL this season and will almost definitely be returning to its ranks for next season; since he’s a 1998-born player he won’t be old enough to play in the American Hockey League, so unless he somehow makes the Flames roster he’s back to Victoria for another campaign. Phillips’ coach Dave Lowry – who played 1,000 games in the NHL and has extensive experience coaching in the NHL and WHL – doesn’t seem that worried about complacency.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have any problem getting him to keep growing
his game,” said Lowry. “I think you just look at the player, you look at
the evolution of his game and you look at the passion and he’s one guy
that’s extremely passionate about the game, he’s a great student of the
game and he knows where he wants to go and he knows where his final
destination is. And he’s always been told that he’s an undersized guy
and he’s going to have all these challenges, but every day he just wants
to prove everybody wrong.”

Phillips credits his time at Flames training camp this past fall with giving him additional insight into what he needs to do to make it at the next level.

“You want to get better every day,” said Phillips. “Coming to main camp
here was a big eye-opening experience because you saw that there’s a lot
of work left to do. There’s always going to be a bigger gun and there’s
players that play a similar game to myself who are in the NHL. In the
NHL it’s competitive and you always have to beat other guys out. You
have to get better every day if you want a chance to play in the NHL.”

In terms of what specific things he needs to address to be successful in the future, the diminutive player readily notes something he wants to improve.

“I think just strength,” said Phillips. “The way the game is
evolving, I think speed and quickness is a good way to have success. I
think the stronger I get and the more powerful, that’s going to help me
win battles and walk out of the corners. Lower body strength is really
big. But besides that, I think just playing with confidence.”

His coach has a very similar mindset and is optimistic about Philips’ long-term potential.

“He does everything to give himself a chance,” said Lowry.
“Obviously, 145 pounds there’s some muscle that needs to go onto the
frame but keep one thing in perspective: he’s a ’98. He’s a young
player, there’s lots of time to grow his frame and if he could continue
to get stronger and make improvements this summer, carry it over and do
it for another year he gives himself a chance.”

In terms of his contractual status, it seems probable that Phillips will be signed this summer. If he’s signed once this season ends, he’ll be a 19-year-old in the eyes of the CBA and so his contract will be able to slide once – for the 2017-18 season. Then, when he’s 20, his deal would activate for the 2018-19 year. 

Both contractually and in terms of physical maturity, Phillips has a lot of time to continue developing. As a sixth round selection he’s definitely a more long-term project than other players in the Flames organization, but his pure offensive output should put him squarely in the conversation with their best prospects.

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    Maybe the Flames should hire Keith Tkachuk as a Power-forward/attitude adjustment Coach? Having a little bit of the “Tkachuk energy” certainly wouldn’t hurt any of the players here, esp the younger guys. Heck it might even help out GG on how to successfully coach/play a team…

    • #97TRAIN

      Where was that energy and attitude against Edmonton last night? Got a deflection but otherwise physically non existent against a much bigger more physical team.

      • ThisBigMouthIsRight

        Did I say Matt? or Keith to come in and “assist” in COACHING some toughness into the OTHER players.. [redacted – FN Mod; play nice, make your point without insults] What would you be without your gift pick #97.. Nothing.. that’s what! [redacted]

      • Scary Gary

        The flames are taller on average than the oilers and are on average only 1.1 lbs lighter. So not “much bigger”.

        If you’re going to troll at least be right.

        • #97TRAIN

          I am right! and look at Hamilton 6’5″ 230 pounds and could not get physical enough to throw a fart let alone a hit.
          Your team gets pushed around far too often and you offer up nothing in return.
          You got shellacked in your own building by your provincial rival and showed next to no fight!

          None of your skilled guys have any jam except maybe Tkachuk but he isn’t even 200 pounds!

          • #97TRAIN

            Ok so you think they are physical? Good luck. You have Engellend on d and not much of a player. Look at a guy like Larsson 6’4″ 230 can play and is super physical and has a mean streak. Who do you have like that?? Nobody that’s who! A guy like Maroon who is gonna get 30 and can take on anyone? Nope!! The biggest and baddest in Lucic? Nope!! You have a couple big guys but they can’t play? Gaudreau got pushed around and nothing in return nothing!
            Draisaitl is 6’2″ 220 and nobody can push him or McDavid off the puck.

            Dream on!!!

          • FlamesFanOtherCity

            Tke away the first 4 shots of the game, and it’s 4-3 in goals. Wouldn’t call that shellacking. It’s an embarrassment to have Eberle score on you, though.

            The Flames have some smaller players, but Nuge, Eberle, Caggiula, Russell, Klefbom, etc., are not the definition of team toughness. Russell is a warrior at least. Lucic and Kassian are goons, not hockey players. Hendricks is about the toughest guy on your team. Don’t make yourself look like a fool by thinking the Oilers are tough.

          • #97TRAIN

            The one thing you said was right the Flames have some smaller players! Accept the fact your team is too small to compete with the bigger teams.

            Keep thinking Gaudreau is Patrick Kane, and Monahan is Toews. Chiarelli has made his team competitive and your team keeps regressing.

          • #97TRAIN

            Take a look at the Oilers first line..

            Maroon 6’4″ 230
            McDavid 6’1 200
            Draisaitl 6’2″ 220
            You might have some guys that size but they can’t play hockey!!

          • McDavid's Comet

            I think the fLames have gone full Oilers (2009-14) and they haven’t realized it yet. It sure looks like the fLames are copying the kLowe model of hockey business. Lol ?

          • FlamesFanOtherCity

            Maroon is physical. McDavid is not. He will cross-check someone in the back if he feels that Maroon can’t protect him until the refs show up. Bot it. Draisaitl is solid, but is not tough.

            So your first line has two that wait for other players to fight their battles. That leaves you super-heavyweights Sekera or Larsson as your other tough players available to protect McDavid.

            Meanwhile you have a goon that used to score and a goon that used to break jaws with his stick.

            Dream on like you have a tough team. Fighting has gone in most games, yet you think the toughness is the reason you don’t get pushed around.

          • #97TRAIN

            Talking about McDavid??? Watch him against the boards and see if people knock him off the puck. When I’m talking about size I’m not necessarily talking fighting I am talking about being big ,strong and difficult to play against, and doing that with skill.
            I’m not saying Calgary doesn’t have some guys like that but they could use more of it.
            Guys with skill and size. You seem to be missing the point.

          • Kevin R

            No, it’s because if you skate by him & just brush him, he falls & it’s instant penalty. Happened Saturday, I was there & I’ve seen with other teams as well. Opposition isn’t allowed to play him like other players.

          • Capro71

            I have to agree with [redacted] in that the flames are missing some grit that can play. We need a Marchand or someone like that.

            Hey 97train … gotta suck for a decade to get mcjesus … don’t make you good just amazingly patient as a fan to wait that long. Not to belabour the point but how many first overalls do you need again?

            Your alias is an abomination and a detriment to this and any other league … [redacted] … crawl back into your hole and stay there… troll!

            FN Mod: just don’t; think twice before posting.

          • Derzie

            You’re MMA references, worship of the Connors and big guy obsessions are troubling. This is about hockey right? Also, you should cc McDavid on all of your trolls so he can take proper credit. Without him you are the trolled, not the troll.

      • KiLLKiND

        It’s not hindsight if that’s what I said when the trade happened. Calgary’s biggest weakness has been RW for quite some time and this year had many decent UFA goaltender options.

          • KiLLKiND

            Reimer was pretty comparable, younger and would not have required any assets. We could have gotten him Johnson, and Debrincat and probably even better no Brouwer.

          • Kevin R

            Ramo couldn’t even make the Leafs, that knee injury was pretty bad. Would have been a horrible move by Tre, probably a career ender.

            Right now I’m tired that Gaudreau is getting mugged & hacked so much he’s definitely off his game. Besides the 3M line, 2nd & 3rd lines are totally floundering. Right now, if bringing Bollig up & play shotgun on Gaudreau’s line gets him going again, I could care less.

          • McDavid's Comet

            Your posts on ON were great, at first I thought you were serious but as I kept reading I realized you were kidding around. In the world of hockey that is actually pretty funny, and everyone including Brownlee bit on it! Hilarious stuff.

  • Primo

    Watched him play the other night…a really talented kid. He will have to physically fill out significantly to even have a chance to play in the NHL, i’m afraid.

  • L13

    Fox, Jankowski, Mangiapane, Andersson and Kylington aren’t prospects any more?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Phillips. But let’s wait a bit before we say he’s our top prospect.

    • redwhiteblack

      No disrespect to Phillips, as a sixth round selection he is awesome and I hope he is great in the NHL soon. He certainly has great numbers.

      However to say another pint sized forward might be our best prospect does not say much about the team in Stockton. I agree it is premature to put Phillips in that group. If he shines at the AHL we will know more.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    I love the half-pints to death, but we have already seen this season how Johnny has been brutalized with impunity by thugs from the other clubs, so unless wee Phillips and Magpie have the “big” elbows and “large” stick that Theo had, the Flames will have to employ some rugged cats to look after their show ponies. How many roster spots can be occupied by hawks so that the little doves can soar? Seems Burkie saw the future when he gushed about having a Flames’ team that was big and truculent.

  • Stu Cazz

    Ryan Pike…if you think Philips is anywhere near being Calgary’s top prospect then you need to get another profession…seriously do you not cover the prospects in Stockton?

  • #97TRAIN

    Really the bottom line is that your team has to get guys with skill that are tougher to play against.
    Scary Gary wants to argue that they are already big and hard to play against yet almost everyone on this site knows that is not the case.

    • Scary Gary

      That’s not at all what I’m saying, what I’m saying is there’s virtually no difference between the average size of our two teams, and I’m not convinced playing “harder to play again”, while giving up more shots, is a recipe for long term success.

  • Greatsave

    I thought it was strange that a prospect article generated a second page of comments. I mean, Phillips is exciting but not two-pages exciting.

    I’m so glad the Battle of Alberta is done for the season before the ASG. Not having to put up with Oilers trolls around these parts anymore is a big plus.

    I know this is the internet so everyone feels their points and their voices are equally valid and deserving to be heard, but Gresham’s Law is going to strike, eventually.