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FlamesNation prospect wrap-up: Matthew Phillips

It’s something about those short guys.

Despite a focus (often exaggerated, but sometimes clearly real) on Brian Burke words like truculence and pugnacity, the Flames have found their most success looking for shortish guys. Johnny Gaudreau is quite obvious, but the Flames have picked up promising players in Andrew Mangiapane, Dillon Dube, and Adam Fox, all who registed under 6’0″.

Probably the most exciting undersized player would be the focus of today’s article: Matthew Phillips. His production, if he was six inches taller, would make scouts drool. Despite being one of the most consistently strong WHL producers, Phillips has often been pushed to the side. What do the Flames have in the diminutive winger?

Background

There’s no real purpose of reading deep into Midget AAA stats, but if you were so inclined, you’d notice that Phillips has been a weapon since his days playing in Calgary. Although he didn’t jump to the WHL immediately as a 16-year-old (although he did record three points in his two-game debut at the tail end of the season), he was tearing up local hockey, finishing with 73 points in 34 games.

His first full WHL season saw him win WHL Rookie of the Year and finish first among first-time WHL draft eligibles in scoring. However, that was not enough to convince scouts to look at him seriously. A bit of oversight (get it he’s short) led to Phillips falling all the way down to the sixth round, where the Flames picked him up with the 166th pick of the 2016 draft. Not to rest on his laurels, Phillips returned with an impressive 50-goal campaign in his second WHL season.

2017-18 story

Phillips had a very good and very bad year.

The very good was that he lit the WHL on fire. He began the season hot with a couple of four-point games (eventually slowing down to have two- and three-point games regularly) and was named to Team WHL for the CHL-Russia series. As hard as it is to top off a 50-goal, 90-point season, Phillips blew the doors down and had himself an 112-point year, a personal best and the fifth best in the WHL. He also got his entry-level contract and set the Chilliwack Bruins/Victoria Royals franchise record for points in a season.

The very bad was being ditched early by the Flames, being cut after one preseason game with tryout players. He was also left off of Team Canada’s WJC roster, a strange move considering some of the names that did make their way to Buffalo. Perhaps it isn’t worth that much attention, but getting spurned by the two big organizations in your hockey life seems a bit troubling. Again, he’s always been cast aside because of his height, but still troubling.

The numbers

GP G A P Primary points 5v5 Points 5v5 Primary points NHLe
WHL 71 48 64 112 91 48 39 37.51

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Phillips had a wild start to the season, at one point averaging 2.67 points per game, but slowed down considerably. Not necessarily a knock, as he still scored around 1-1.5 PPG for the remainder of the season. He was consistently good and rarely slowed down or sped up. You could probably set your watch to Phillips scoring.

I think the most impressive stat about Phillips is the fact he was the entirety of Victoria’s offence. Usually, a large number (both raw and in percentage) powerplay points are a major red flag for prospects, as it is generally the sign of a trusting coach and a high powered offence. Phillips may be a product of a great system rather than a great player.

For example, one of the reasons to be wary of Glenn Gawdin’s success is that he had two other 100-point scorers on his team. Adjusted for time missed, Gawdin was pretty much at the same level as his teammates. It’s hard to separate whether Gawdin is responsible for Gawdin’s success, or if his linemates were doing more than their fair share of the heavy lifting.

In Phillips’ case, he was 20 points up on the #2 scorer on his team (Tyler Soy, 92 points, but with five fewer games played) and 33 points up on the #3 scorer (Dante Hannoun, 79 points in 66 games). Phillips was up 69 points on the fourth best scorer on the team. In terms of PPG, he had a .19 PPG advantage over Soy, which sounds small but is pretty significant (i.e: 16 points over 82 games). That is a pretty clear trend for Phillips’ career as a whole. He finished last year 18 points clear of second place, 26 clear of third, and 45 clear of fourth.

No matter which way you cut it, Phillips was the cog of the Victoria offence. He was involved in just under 41% of Royals goals at all strengths, and was the primary factor on 33% of said goals. He lead his team in powerplay points, shorthanded points (one shy of leading the league), 5v5 points, 4v4 points, and 3v3 points. He did everything for the team because he was the only guy who could do anything for the team. His ability to create offence at any state (eight shorthanded points!) is astounding.

He also only picked up 21 secondary points all year, if you aren’t impressed yet.

Comparables

Methodology explained here. Phillips’ full data can be found here.

Unfortunately, this means his comparables are a bit wacky.

For this season, his all situations numbers compare favourably to some well established NHL names. Players who scored similarly to Phillips at all situations have made it to the NHL at a 33.96% clip, and scored at a .46 PPG rate, slightly stronger numbers than Dube (by .63% and .01 PPG respectively, but still technically stronger). Not bad, so what’s the catch?

Well, at 5v5, he compares well to well established NHL fourth liners. Players with similar 5v5 numbers (203 of them) only made it to the NHL 7.42% of the time, scoring at a weakish .32 PPG. The fact that he almost had the same number of powerplay points as 5v5 points kind of drags him down in this measure.

But there was also no overlap between 5v5 and AS comparables: Phillips’ year was extremely unique in that no one has had such a major discrepancy in their AS and 5v5 scoring ever. Given with what’s written above, I feel that these weaker numbers don’t necessarily demonstrate that Phillips is a weak player, just that Phillips is on a team that is much weaker relative to him.

Compared to the rest of his career this can probably be safely identified as an outlier. Throughout his age 17 and 18 years, he had some very favourable cohorts, making this season’s 5v5 numbers. His scoring throughout his career is very similar to Dube’s so I’d imagine they have similar trajectories.

The future

I think it’s a bit hard to peg what Phillips could be in the NHL or when he arrives. He has speed, skill, and smarts in spades. It is incredibly rare to see a player produce like Phillips over the past three seasons and not expect them in the NHL immediately.

But, and as much as I disagree with judging solely on size, players who are 5’7 tend to have problems making it in the NHL immediately. Even Theo Fleury, picked in the same spot as Phillips 19 years earlier, had to spend the majority of his rookie season in the IHL. Martin St. Louis bounced between AHL and NHL for the first three years of his career. Not to say Phillips is definitely one of these guys (and if he is, he is hopefully not in the “talents wasted by the Flames” category), but the league just doesn’t trust short guys. Phillips was one of the earlier cuts from training camp this year and got stood up by Hockey Canada for World Juniors. Perhaps it is bias. Perhaps they see something we don’t.

I’ll leave it to training camp and evaluate from there. I think Phillips is certainly going to be something special. How soon? Hard to say. There’s very few prospects who have done what he has done and crashed and burned as soon as they hit the pros.

Previously

D’Artagnan Joly | Glenn Gawdin | Zach Fischer | Dillon Dube | Filip Sveningsson | Eetu Tuulola | Adam Fox | Linus Lindstrom | Pavel Karnaukhov & Rushan Rafikov

  • OKG

    Phillips is the full package. Agility Elusiveness One Timer Vision Hands Tenacity.

    Plop him in next year and you have a Versteeg replacement.

    Add about 20lbs and you have Artemi Panarin.

    • Jimjamg

      As a Royals season-ticket holder I can tell you Phillips is the real deal and a top-end prospect for you guys as well as one hell of a character kid. It pains me that the Canucks missed another great prospect in their backyard but good on the Flames. He will be fun to watch.

  • freethe flames

    In today’s NHL there is room for smaller skilled guys; is he too small, maybe maybe not. The Flames need to put him in a place to succeed. He needs to play with skilled guys in a role that expects him to produce offence but not in a role where he has to carry his team. He likely goes to the AHL and needs to be given a chance to succeed. While it might be enticing to create a line of Dube/Gawdin/Phillips I don’t think it would be good idea at the start of the AHL season. If done correctly the Heat could create 3 effective AHL lines that can produce offense while sheltering their top 3 young prospects.

    • The Beej

      With Backs and Frolik maybe. That way he doesnt have to worry about defense and driving the play so much, but can also start learning that from Backs.

      Or maybe Jankowski Ferland or Jankowski Tkachuk. Either option there would provide some size to balance out the line and also create tons od space for him.

      • freethe flames

        He is likely going to start in the AHL so I start thinking who would be good line mates for him there. I’m not yet worried about the NHL. I could see the Heat having a team where each line could generate offense and see him playing with a prospect like Pollock and a tweener like Hrivik and then moving up the line up when someone like Foo is called up. I see Foo likely getting the Janko treatment next year unless he is awesome in camp.

        • Stockton's Finest

          Provided they bring Hrivik back, and Foo starts in Calgary, the lines could look like this:
          Mangiapane Hrivik Dube
          Klimchuk Smith Phillips
          Pollock Gawdin Poirier
          Lomberg McMurtry (open)

          Speed and toughness on all 4 lines

          • Stockton's Finest

            Throw Gazdic as 4th line RW with Lomberg and McMurtry.
            Lots of speed there and each line has at least 2 that can score.

            Figure they can sign Shinkaruk and Carroll as 13/14. That makes Findlay, Pelley, and Nowick expendable. Nowick may go back to KC.

            Thoughts on that line up?

          • Stockton's Finest

            Dube played RW during his 6 games in Stockton at the end of the year. He looked good there. If Hrivik doesn’t get signed, I can see him at center.

          • Hockeysense9393

            Dube is a lefty I think…is that right? He looked good on the right side? You are the voice from down south, so depending on how the camp works out…looks like a good set up to start. Have you heard of any surprise “upcomer” names that may be given a look at the prospect camp? Kind of like Foo or Gawden were?

          • Stockton's Finest

            Not a word from Stockton on who they will go after. Probably won’t know until camp starts.

            I don’t even know if Huska and his staff would be back. Everything is on hold until coaching in Calgary is set.

          • freethe flames

            SF: I posted my lines on your story. One area I disagree with you on is Foo. I personally don’t think he will start with the Flames unless he has an awesome preseason. It will be interesting to see if the Heat sign a few more players.

  • Just.Visiting

    The reality is that Phillips’ size will be a barrier that he will have to overcome to play regularly in the NHL, particularly if the team has other small players. He can increase the probability a lot if he can bulk up by 15-20 pounds without losing speed.

    That being said, he is a great example of why the NHL should look at allowing teams to dress one extra player each game.

    Some teams might want to dress an extra defenceman to allow them to address in game injuries more easily.

    Others might want to dress a player like Phillips who can be an offensive specialist for PPs, for OTs, for shootouts and to move into a regular shift when trying to catch up late in a game.

    Having offensive specialists like this who might otherwise be challenged to play regularly would generate additional excitement for the fans at no extra cost to the teams because the roster size would remain unchanged.

    • The Beej

      Not sure that makes sense. Huska has done well with Kulak Janks and Mange.

      Shinkaruk. He probably was never going to be an NHLer and thats why he fell so far in the draft.

        • FL🔥MES

          Every player that was called up this season slid seamlessly into the lineup. Huska did what was asked of him from this standpoint.

          Huska will also be playing a new system this season so let’s how it works out.

          If guys like Poirier and Shinkaruk don’t work out, that’s on them. Every team has these guys.

          • Jumping Jack Flash

            I don’t see why Huska would not be considered for a assistant coach position, perhaps Gelinas goes on the bench and Huska goes up top. I remember hearing that they have a good assistant in Stockton that could run the show.

        • Hockeysense9393

          I don’t know if Foo got Huska’d as much as just needing time to translate his NCAA softer scheduling to playing the next level. Even he said that the transition is more surprising then just being told. You need to go through it and learn. Once he figured it out and became more comfortable, he got more confident and opened up. You can’t usually just throw a new player in (who has no idea) and let him sink or swim. More times then not he will sink. You need to ease them in mainly. With this said…he did finally transition nicely! I think the Flames have a pretty good middle 6 RW here.

          • Hockeysense9393

            Good call Baalz. Let them get used to dominating one league before the next. It just goes to show that a player like Gaudreau and Tkachuk are a little extra special. On the other side of the coin…a player like Bennett and Lazar probably would have benefitted more by taking the slower road. Confidence is such a big element with a lot of these kids.

    • The Beej

      Reading your posts I get the sense that you think every Flames draft pick should make the NHL and its Huskas fault if they dont.

      There was a reason Shink fell so far in his draft year and a reason VAN traded him. A trade they won by the way…

  • Off the wall

    This kid is really good. I’ve watched enough Royals games to draw the impression he’s going to make it despite all the odds against him.

    He has a heart like a lion and seldom gets run by bigger players, because he’s smart and elusive. I wouldn’t bet against this kid.

    He plays centre and right wing and we really need all the help we can get on RW.

    I believe/ hope he makes an impact with the Heat ( Huska needs to use his skills properly)

    Given his size, he’ll be working on the the elements of his game that has proven successful for him.

      • Off the wall

        I agree Fall. Phillips is a guy who mucks it up in corners. He’s not your typical small player who’s afraid to get into the ugly spots of the ice . I’ve been impressed with his ability to come out of a scrum with the puck on his stick, more often than not.

        I still believe he needs some time in the AHL to hone his skills playing against the next level opposition. I believe he’ll open eyes and force the Flames to give him a call- up next season.

        I’d love nothing more than to see him make the NHL.

        • freethe flames

          I agree that he should start in the AHL. But lets for minute think preseason? Who would you line him up with? Depending whether BT adds a legit top 6 forward how about one of these 2 options: Tkachuk/Monny/Phillips with Johnny/Jankp/Ferland or Johnny/Monnny/Ferland and Tkachuk/Janko?Phillips.

          • Off the wall

            Preseason- I’d love to see Phillips with Tkachuk at left wing and Jankowski at centre.
            Two strong players who would compliment Phillips skill. Phillips is much grittier than Gaudreau, but doesn’t possess the same puck dangling abilities.

            Phillips has a great shot, fast release and is a natural scorer.
            Breakaways, he’s incredible.
            Use him as a 2nd line forward to add depth in scoring for a preseason look?

  • The Fall

    I think it was Hayes who said something to the effect of “…he’s too good for the AHL: his line mates wouldn’t be able to keep up. NHL or bust…”

    • Hockeysense9393

      It’s apparent in juniors, but AHL is a little different. I would think that Hayes (being around forever) sees something special then? We all would love this to be a great success story for sure. Good on Phillips to keep working hard to give himself a chance. Mental wise? These are the type of players the Flames need in the big show.

      • Hockeysense9393

        Even St. Louis was like that…to good for the minors, but still needed to prove himself. It keeps the fire stoked for this type of player to keep pushing for success. I don’t know if I could imagine both Gaudreau and Phillips on the same line per say, but compliment a two line speed and set up factor? Gets one a little excited on the possibilities.

        • deantheraven

          I love pulling for the underdog, and was a small (unskilled) player when I played so those guys always have a place in my heart. Theo and Marty carved out their places and will one day be HOF, which nobody could’ve imagined when they were drafted.
          It would be awesome if Phillips turns out to be even a shadow of the above mentioned exceptional athletes but he’ll absolutely have to prove it in Stockton next season, even if he lights it up in camp. I’m skeptical about how/where Phillips would fit, too. Speed and scoring are desirable, of course, but moreso if paired with size. If you’ve watched this year’s first round, it seems this team might still need more size to compete.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I don’t see the value for these type of players to play in the AHL if the can think the game at the NHL level. I would be curious to know what type of player Johnny would be if he was forced to play a year in the AHL. As long as the NHL continues to crack down on Clutching, grabbing, and slashing the type of players can excel.

  • Franko J

    Look no further to Guentzel and Sheary in Pittsburgh. The game is predicated on speed and skill. When you have a player who has the inner drive and compete it would be foolish for this organization to overlook him. Can you say St.Louis?

    • Hockeysense9393

      St. Louis! Yeah, or back then…Marc Savard? I know there were mitigating circumstances with him…but he was small and seemingly expendable? I think (besides BB) the Flames maybe learnt their lesson on this some, and have no qualms about testing these kinds of draft picks for a possible diamond. Fox is another example? I’m sure Hunter Smith was BB’s contribution to trying to keep the dream alive, but I could be wrong. Window shopping…Phillips looks like a hybrid between Gaudreau and Fluery…with a lean towards St. Louis maybe? St. Louis wasn’t the best defensive catalyst, but I don’t think he backed down much either.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    If Phillips is given the same pro opportunity as Johnny, I can’t see how he can’t succeed. I think Hartly and the organization handled him well. A little bit of tough love at the start by sitting him for a game but the continued to play him in the top 6 until it clicked. I feel so much better knowing that Phillips, Mangi, and Dube are coming up without GG at the helm.

    Phillips may not be another Johnny but he could very likely be better on breakaways. He looks like he has a heavier shot, and can one time the puck which is something I have rarely seen Johnny or others Flames do successfully. Johnny is an amazing player but most of his goals have been in tight and very few are from backhands, or slapshots. The truth is if Johnny had a better shot he could challenge for the scoring title. Look how close he already is with a limited arsenal.

    Phillips will need to be surrounded by some beefy players so he can play bigger like a Tom Wilson. The league seems to have room for the Phillips, Debrincats and Perhaps Yamamotos of the world but only if the are handled right. I am covinced that Phillips can score at this level more than I am about Dube. I am worried that Dube could be another Lazar.

    According to hockey db, Debrincat is an inch taller than Phillips at 5’8 and 10 pounds heavier which I find hard to believe. It also says Yamamoto is an inch taller but the same weight. Both players need to gain 10 lbs of muscle without losing any quickness to start next season which won’t be easy.

      • Atomic Clown

        Top 6 minutes. Surround him with good and responsible players. Don’t throw him out with grinders against top opposition. If there’s an issue with the play, scratch him for a game rather than demote him to the fourth line for five games. Mangiapane and Phillips need good teammates to feed them the puck. Dube I can see holding his own on the lower lines

    • calgaryfan

      Phillips may not be Johnny, but he works harder plays without fear. He goes to the net and does not play on the perimeter. He is a tough little guy. No complaining about hits or dirty shots, just keeps playing. The Flames need players with his will to win, I hope they give him a legitimate chance to make the team.

  • deantheraven

    Theo was drafted in the 80’s (more than 19* years ago),and Marty in the 90’s. They had to play in tougher times. Maybe Matt already has a better chance to be an impact player. Maybe…
    I’m not sure he’ll get it in Calgary before he’s clawed his way up here through the ‘A’.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I don’t think Debrincat was ever going to play in the AHL, just like I don’t think Yamamoto will spend time in the A. They can use Phillips as a PP specialist unless our PP doesn’t need any help. I still laugh that Mangi never got any PP time when we were so bad and pinned to the 4th line for 8 mins a game.

  • FL🔥MES

    If we don’t find a top line RW in the offseason i would like to see the following tried in the preseason:

    Gaudreau – Monahan – Foo
    Tkachuk – Janko – Phillips
    Mangiapane – Backlund – Frolik

    Phillips would be on a skilled line with size. This would also spread out the smaller guys through the lineup.

      • FL🔥MES

        It’s called pre-season. Dube should probably get a chance as well.

        If Tre does find a top line RW I would expect to see Ferland on the 3rd or 4th line, or maybe traded as you suggest. Ferland and Shore would be the start of a good 4th line and this would help spread the depth down through the lineup. If it gets Brouwer off the roster sign me up.

        • Hockeysense9393

          I like that actually! Ferland has skill and grit that should actually translate more to bottom 6. 15-18 goals on an energy line would benefit this team more, I would think? Even put him on the left side where he may be more suited? I know he was new here and trying to prove something…but Shore looked to be one of the more invested players down the stretch. Maybe the new coach (Peters) can convince Brouwer that he is actually more suited with that line?

    • withachance

      If Mangi, Phillips and Foo all pan out, I could easily see this as a long term line up down the road. Maybe put in Ferland instead of Frolik (who might have left by then) and that’ll get a really nice mix of skill and pest mentality in the lineup.

      Big if though

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I like the lines but in the past, the Flames have not given its rookies top line minutes in training camp. The bring in PTOs which just muddies the waters. The seem to have their minds made up before training camp on some prospects. I do feel that Foo, Mangi, and Ras to be give legit chances unless there is a major trade for a RW.

      • Hockeysense9393

        …or Will Butcher?? Still not bad at all. PP specialist that can move the puck. I am quite interested to see how this year goes for Fox. Crimson is not as heavy and talented this year, but it would be nice if he plays himself into Hobey consideration. Other then to finish his classes…he still loves the coach there and the system he’s learning under. Total respectful for him staying another year.

  • MontanaMan

    Wondering what the future looks like for the remaining assistant coaches that were spared during the GG firing. And on that note, how has Gelinas survived two head coach terminations? What exactly does Gelinas do and why is he still around after two full coaching staffs were replaced?

    • Baalzamon

      Gelinas and, more surprisingly, Sigalet (as well as Pringle, less surprisingly).

      I mean, I’ve never really been on the fire Sigalet bandwagon but considering the nonsense the Flames have gone through goaltending-wise, he would have been a completely defensible firing.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I am not sure if anyone has commented on Darren Haynes new piece on what to expect if Peters is hired as the next Flames coach. I was already open to Peters because of his usage of young players but I think it will save some posters years of therapy to read the article.

    If Peters can get players like Bennett and Janko to reach their potential, keep players accountable, and change the team identity to rise to the occasion it will be a great hire.
    If he is not married to the previous lines then he could create the balance throughout the line up that was sorely lacking.

    I would like to see him move Janko to the second line with Tkachuk and maybe Phillips ( needs to be with size and grit and hopefully doesn’t get maimed with Matty’s antics) and this would drop Backlund to the third line with Ferland and Bennett. This assumes a top 3 RW trade for Brodie. A team with 3 strong lines that could lead the team in any given game. I am going to pencil Hoffman in on the top line.

    Watching the playoffs, it is clear players like Lazar and Brouwer can’t be gifted a spot on the 4th line. Dube might have more of an offensive upside than Lazar. Throw Mangi and Foo on this line and it has scoring potential and energy. If you are going to go with 3 rookies on a line the 4 th line is the most suitable.

    • freethe flames

      I too have read Hayne’s article and it paints a much more optimistic picture than what we have read here on FN, however I still remain somewhat skeptical. My concerns remain the same; will they hire the right assistant coaches to run both the PP and PK. Will be BT add at least one upgrade to the top 6 forward list and an upgrade to the 4th center position? If BT does not do these things I’m not sure it will matter who the coach is. Last off season he failed to address the lack of top end talent and mistakenly believed the young guys could move up; what’s really changed? Is Foo’s short end of the season enough to convince you that he is the answer, did Mangiapane’s 4th line audition convince you, or the Shore addition, or Bennetts’ big break through season or even Janko’s inconsistent rookie season. The only one of these that I am confident about being able to step up next year is Janko.

  • Hotwing

    >Sign Taveres for 9.5M
    >Buy-out Brouwer (Save 3M after cap hit)
    >Trade Hamilton (5.5M), Sone (3.5M) and 1M per season to the Leaf’s for Nylander and 2018 first* round pick
    >Trade 2018 first* round pick + fox + Backland + 1 M per year to either Montreal, or Detroit for Brady Tkachuck
    >Trade Frolik for what ever we can get to assist in the trades above (prospects and/or draft picks)

    Johnny, Taveres, Nylander
    M Tkachuck, B Tkachuck, Monahan (mix and match for RW)
    Bennet, Mark Jan, M Ferland
    Lazar, Shore, Foo/Hath

    Gio, Brodie
    Hamonic, Valimaki
    Anderson, Kulak

    • Fat Tony

      This is the kind of things I like to see when I look at comments. How the team could look if we went all in. That being said, I don’t think Nylander is being traded considering Drew Doughty is a free agent and I expect the leafs to throw a boat load of money at him. I would shed a tear if we could get a Taveres deal done and I think trading to aquire the pick that would be Brady Tkachuck is a good move but do we want to give up a 2019 first round pick, which is what I assume your saying because our 2018 first round pick belong to the Islanders.