The 2016 draft is shaping up to be one of the best in recent Flames history. So far, the Flames have an NHLer, two World Juniors gold medalists, a WJC silver medalist, a kid who played a whole season of SHL hockey, one of the WHL’s scoring leaders, and a rookie ECHLer with 20 goals as a defenceman. It’s a pretty good haul.
Those early returns are great. You’re never going to hit on all of your picks, especially when you have nine of them and most of them come outside of the top 90, but the best strategy is to try and maximize success. Fifth round pick Mitchell Mattson, mostly left out of the conversation, could be one of those late round players that surprises. He has been a quiet favourite of scouts and management teams throughout his career, and could potentially be a dark horse prospect with a few years of NCAA development.
A brief history
Mattson has been a highly regarded player wherever he’s gone: he was picked ninth overall in the USHL draft and has been a commit to the University of North Dakota since 2014. Up to this point in his career, he split time between his high school in Grand Rapids and the Bloomington Thunder, and won third place in the Minnesota State tournament with the former. He was a dominant player for his high school team, finishing way ahead of his peers in scoring, but struggled in the USHL (though one has to think that has a lot to do with playing hockey seven days a week in two places that are three states away from each other).
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Mattson, while not being the best scorer for Bloomington, was still quite productive. He finished third on the team for primary points, 5v5 primary points, and scoring in general. Although the volume is a bit concerning, he did play on an offensively starved Thunder team that finished third worst in goals for and fifth worst in the same category at 5v5.
Mattson had high highs and low lows this year. One problem I had with him was the lack of consistent scoring. There was really only one stretch where he was putting up points on a weekly basis (between weeks 8-16 on the graph), and most of the time he was silent.
Mattson heads to the prestigious University of North Dakota, no small achievement. He’s going to a high standards program which has been an esteemed NHL pipeline for years. Again, highly regarded player.
But the odds of him joining UND alumni in the big show are stacked against him. Mattson didn’t have a great USHL season, even less so for an overager. He’s still a bit thin for a tall guy (6’4″, 195 lbs, though he has gained 20 pounds since committing), a bit weak for a forward, and a bit underwhelming on offence. It’s going to take some time.
Mattson is likeable based on the tools he has, but the actual production is lacking. He’s all potential at this point. If he puts it all together, he could be scary, but that’s a criticism that’s dogged him all of his career. Maybe we get a clearer, more promising picture next year, but nothing to get excited about just yet.