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?
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.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) March 25, 2018
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.
|GP||G||A||P||Primary points||5v5 Points||5v5 Primary points||NHLe|
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.
— Victoria Royals (@victoriaroyals) October 19, 2017
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.
— Victoria Royals (@victoriaroyals) October 29, 2017
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.
— CanadianHockeyLeague (@CHLHockey) April 8, 2018