For whatever reason, smaller players have a tendency to slide in the NHL Draft. While in the past teams like the Calgary Flames would have seen this trend as proof that players 5’10” or shorter were cursed or made of bees, more recently the Flames have seen this market inefficiency and jumped all over it. That’s a good thing, too, because the small guys they’ve drafted can straight-up score.
In 2011, they got Johnny Gaudreau. In 2015, they got Andrew Mangiapane. And in 2016, they drafted Calgary-born Matthew Phillips. In two seasons since being drafted, Phillips has put up 98 goals and 202 points, served a year as captain of the Victoria Royals, and signed a contract with the Flames. He’s on the cusp of starting his pro career – though technically he could go back for an overage year in the WHL – and we caught up with him at Flames development camp.
When we spoke this time last year, you didn’t have an NHL contract and you were still trying to make an impression in this organization. Are you pleased with how your last year has gone?
Yeah. I knew going into this season it was going to be pretty important. Obviously trying to earn a contract and I was fortunate enough that it worked out. It was a good year. I developed a lot and being a 19-year-old player and a captain there was a lot asked of me day in and day out, I think that helped me grow a lot.
Do you feel like you’re going to be a pro hockey player this year, or is that still up in the air?
I think a bit of that is in my control and a bit of it is out of my control, due to strictly numbers and how many guys they have on the roster. I feel like I’m hopefully ready. I’ve had three good years in junior. That’s my goal, this whole summer, focused on playing pro hockey.
The NHL roster seems pretty close to set, but the AHL roster is going to be competitive, too. It’s probably the first time since you were 16 or 17 that you don’t have set role heading into a season. Is that exciting? Terrifying? How does it feel?
That’s a really good point. I mean, especially they signed a lot of forwards last week. There’s a lot of competition, but I think that’s good. When guys are forced to compete, it gets the best out of them. I guess it’s kinda similar to when I was trying out for junior, and kinda makes you demand to be better every single day, get better and show well when you’re on the ice and off the ice. I think it just makes everyone better in that situation.
Do you have a preference between playing center or on the wing?
I think I’m pretty comfortable wherever the coach tells me to, but I played wing in junior but I played center growing up. I think I’m comfortable wherever but if I had to choose I’d say wing.
How did your NHL deal come together?
It happened really quick. Honestly, we played in Kelowna, I don’t know if Dubes beat us or not. [Editor’s note: the Rockets beat Phillips’ Royals 3-2 in a shootout, but Dillon Dube was away at the World Juniors.] We played in Kelowna, my agent came up and told me they kinda had it figured out. It was pretty out of the blue. Actually the next day I ended up signing it on the bus on my phone. I had the copy/paste on the bus and sent it while we were headed to Kamloops. It’s kinda a funny story but, yeah, it happened pretty quick.