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FlamesNation Top 20 Prospects 2018: #7 Matthew Phillips

Matthew Phillips is not a large man. But hockey isn’t the land of giants that it once was.

A decade or two ago, the 5’7″, 145 pound Phillips wouldn’t have been drafted. Heck, he probably wouldn’t have had the Western Hockey League resume that he’s amassed, either. But it’s not 1998 or 2008; it’s 2018, and Phillips has put together three very impressive seasons in junior. Operating somewhat in the shadow of some of the flashier Flames WHL prospects, Phillips has quietly become one of the organization’s most intriguing young players.

How did we get here?

From Calgary, Phillips came up locally and played with the Bisons and Buffaloes. He scored a lot. People went, “Yeah, but he’s small.” He was drafted in the second round of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft by the Victoria Royals. He spent two seasons lighting up Alberta’s midget goalies with the Buffaloes before being summoned by the Royals.

Phillips made his full-time WHL transition in his first year of NHL Draft eligibility. That’s usually not a recipe for success for many reasons, because often players are concerned about adjusting to the league and trying to look good for the scouts. Phillips just did his thing, amassing 76 points in 72 games – leading WHL rookies in goals and points – and was named the league’s top rookie. He was ranked 81st among North American skaters by Central Scouting, but you could hear the whispers of, “Yeah, but he’s small” as he slid to the Flames at 166th overall.

In his two post-draft seasons, Phillips combined for 98 goals and 202 points. He’s still small, but he’s still finding ways to put the puck in the net and confound the opposition defenders. He signed his entry-level deal with the Flames on New Year’s Eve.

Stats, numbers, and everything therein

The 2017-18 season was Phillips’ third full campaign in the WHL. He was Victoria’s captain.

Games played Goals Assists Points
71 48 64 112

Phillips was fifth in the WHL in goals, sixth in the WHL in assists, and fifth in the WHL in points. The Royals hedged their bets a bit at the trade deadline, shipping out some key pieces and leaving Phillips with a lean team to work with. It didn’t matter much.

While not big, Phillips has been able to generally avoid getting crunched by opposition players and has stayed healthy. He missed just one game this past season and in three full years in the WHL he missed just three regular season games.

For a deeper dive into Phillips’ numbers, revisit Christian Tiberi’s piece on him here.

Those in the know

Andy Eide, the WHL beat writer for 710 ESPN Seattle, was kind enough to provide his thoughts on Phillips’ third season in the Dub.

The speedy Victoria Royals center continued to dazzle in the WHL this past season. While he scored two fewer goals (48) than the previous year, he added playmaker to his resume. He racked up 24 more assists in 2017-18 for a career high 64 and topped the century mark in points for the first time with 112. That was good for fifth best in the WHL and the small, but quick, Phillips played in all situations for the Royals. He was mighty dangerous on the penalty kill and scored five shorthanded goals last year.

Larry Fisher has seen a lot of Phillips through his work as sports editor for the Kelowna Daily Courier and as a writer for The Hockey Writers. He broke down what made Phillips such a successful junior player.

Matthew Phillips might be small, but he’s got big game and he’s winning over his size critics with every passing season. I’ve been a big fan of Phillips’ skill-set ever since he broke into the WHL as a dynamic offensive threat. He generates scoring chances on seemingly every shift and finishes off a lot of them too … The challenge for Phillips as a rookie pro will be obvious — everybody is bigger, faster, stronger. The faster part won’t be an issue since Phillips has good wheels, but he’s never going to be the biggest or strongest player on the ice, and he may struggle to find as much time and space to work his magic in the AHL. At least initially, but the game is trending more towards speed than size and that certainly bodes well for Phillips’ chances of eventually suiting up for his hometown Flames.

On the horizon

While he might not look it physically, Phillips is 20 and destined for professional leagues – he’s simply got nothing left to prove in junior. He’s likely pegged for a spot on the right side of the Stockton Heat’s top six, where he’ll try to translate his speed, elusiveness and nose for the net to the pros.

He’s not likely to get any bigger, and it’s a challenge for very good WHLers to make it right away in the AHL: case in point, Morgan Klimchuk. But Phillips took to the WHL game like a fish to water, and he’s one of the most fascinating players to watch in the organization this season.


#20 – Martin Pospisil #19 – Demetrios Koumontzis
#18 – Emilio Pettersen #17 – Filip Sveningsson
#16 – Milos Roman #15 – Dmitry Zavgorodniy
#14 – D’Artagnan Joly #13 – Adam Ruzicka
#12 – Linus Lindstrom #11 – Glenn Gawdin
#10 – Morgan Klimchuk #9 – Jon Gillies
#8 – Tyler Parsons

    • FLT

      Thanks for posting that. He’s obviously got speed, quick hands, knows where to be on the ice, and uses his body position well. Who knows what will happen, but those skills will work in his favour.

    • idbr

      He was really good in the playoff series against Vancouver last year. He has the level of compete to match his skills. I am hoping that the two combined will get him to the NHL. I would like to see him put on some weight and learn to avoid the big contact like JH does before he gets here.

      His highlights are incredible. Note that he did not disappear in the playoffs either. He was used in all situations by his coach and is the center of most highlights for Victoria. Love the blocked shot to end game 7 and get the victory.

      You can see the highlights of the playoffs through the following link if you are interested:

      http://victoriaroyals.com/video-channels/highlights/game-7-highlights-victoria-4-vs-vancouver-3-apr-318

  • freethe flames

    Phillips is a guy that really interests me; can he become a Johnny type player on the Right side. If he can deal with the everyday pounding that takes place at the pro level then he has the skill set to play in the NHL. I’m hopeful he will make the jump; it might take a couple of years but it could sure be interesting here down the road. Good luck to him.

      • Hockeysense9393

        This is very true actually! If he pans out as even a 35-45 point player in the bottom six, it’s a success story. Anything above is gravy…and I have a feeling this kid will be pretty good. I’m quite excited about Stockton this year for sure. Finally we may just have a good team in the minors with the influx of players like this. Drafting is finally really baring fruit?

      • The Beej

        What if paired with Tkachuk on the 2nd line.. to open up space for him and protect him a little. Playing with Backlund should assure him lots of O-zone time..

    • Off the wall

      Yah, he’s not as gifted as Gaudreau in puck- handling, but once he gets a sniff of scoring, it goes in the net.

      Just from watching him, he’s better at the 5 hole maneuver and makes goalies look silly trying to save it. He was also used on the PK, which Gaudreau hasn’t been utilized for.. yet.
      5 short- handed goals last season alone tells you something about his defensive play. He’s a very trusted player!

      In my humble opinion, he’s more of a complete player than Gaudreau is, and we all know how good Johnny is..

      If he can adjust to the pro game like I believe he can, he’s going to have the same success!

  • buts

    I remember watching him at the macs and seeing his speed. He was very impressive. To miss 3 games in 3 years in the dub is a testament to his smarts. I’m cheering for him to make the next step which he can. The next pocket rocket!

  • Cfan in Van

    After Kanzig and then Carrol, it’s nice to see a familiar Royals player that has a bit more to bring to the table come into the Flames fold. I’m very excited to see how he does in Stockton.
    If he can get work on getting more crafty in his check-avoidance and drawing maximum penalties, he’s got all the skill he needs to put up points on mass.

  • cjc

    Looking forward to watching Phillips light it up in preseason. I doubt he’ll get a look in the NHL this season, but he could force management’s hand by next year.

  • freethe flames

    According to Capfriendly the Flames have signed RW Anthony Peluso to a 1 year deal. I was just going to ask a question on whether or not the Flames should be adding extra bodies; currently at 44(this is including Hanifin) contracts. Currently the Flames 9 LW, 9C, 9 RW, 6 goalies, 7 LD and 5 RD(I’ve put TJ on this side). They have 1 C signed to an AHL deal that I know of and after that I do not know. So looking at who is left as UFA’s is there anyone else the Flames should be signing? Personally I think they should be looking for some AHL depth at RD and maybe another C.

    • cjc

      Peluso is definitely AHL depth – it is a 2-way deal. They have 12 D, assuming they carry 7 in the NHL that leaves 5 for the AHL, so yeah, they need to add a few more bodies to the AHL. 11 D suited up for the Heat last year, but only 7 of those suited up for at least half the season.They might add one or two on 2-way contracts, but the rest will be AHL contracts and won’t count toward the 44 contract limit. That still leaves lots of room to add contracts during the season.

    • Hockeysense9393

      You are doing your homework FTF! Thank you for the breakdown…and I think you’re right. Stockton still needs more “veteran” presence to push the younger ones coming in. I can definitely see a signing or 2 in those positions for depth. Injuries play a part in this game and the past shows that depleting your minors to the point of affecting their playoff hopes is kind of counter-productive.

      • freethe flames

        I always do my homework. So looking at what is left out there here are the names to ponder; remember these are depth signings mostly to play in the AHL: 2 RHS centers stick out: Logan Shaw and Nick Shore; both have 200 or more NHL games and would help the Heat and would not be out of place as call ups. There are 3 RHD that could be discussed: Ryan Sproul and Frank Corrado both 25 with some NHL experience; the other name is Cody Franson and boy has he fallen from grace over the last few years. Many including myself thought he might be the answer on the right side several years ago; boy did teams get it right, but as a low cost AHL insurance package he might be worth it at this time. Now am I convinced that any of them make sense I don’t know but most of us have insurance “just in case”.

        • Baalzamon

          Stockton has Quine, Dube, Gawdin, Graovac, Phillips, and McMurtry. They won’t be bringing in any more centers. Frankly I’m surprised they brought in another forward at all, considering Buddy Robinson is pretty much lined up to be their fourth line RW.

          I could see a Corrado or some such being brought in considering they’re a little thin on defense (especially on the right side). Assuming the Flames are smart enough to have Andersson in the NHL, the only right-shot AHLer will be Prout.

  • cjc

    You forgot to mention that 3 of the guys ahead of him in scoring were a year older – only Heponiemi was younger. And Heponiemi had a lot of help with Gawdin and Steenbergen on his line.

  • Fat Tony

    Excited about this kid. Can you imagine having another player with Gaudreau’s skill set on the team. I believe that’s his ceiling, it may take a few years but I’m expecting big things from this guy

  • Sven

    From NHL numbers (2016)

    An analysis of players drafted by height in inches 1980 – 2016 and their eventual odds of NHL success

    –“Few players from the 5’8″ and smaller group and the 5’9″ groups have been drafted over the past 35 years (only 160 players this size have been drafted during that time – four drafted players per year on average). As a result of the small group of drafted players, there’s naturally few successes from that group as well (i.e., fewer than 50 players 5’9″ and below have made the NHL in the past 35 years).

    But players drafted at 5’9 or shorter show a nearly identical success rate to average-sized players and taller player players (~20% success rate).

    Although the sample size is small, the proportion of small player successes that turned into impact point producers is dramatically higher than any other height group. And this does not factor in the small impact (even elite) players that were never drafted like Joe Mullen, Marty St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello and Tyler Johnson.

    Put in the right context, small players are not unlikely to make the NHL because of their size, rather they’re unlikely to get drafted and therefore unlikely to make the NHL.

    Small players are likely the best value pick you can find. Many have very good-to-elite scoring totals that suggest elite talent, but they go in the later rounds.

    The short player steal still exists today. I trust that more and more analytical tools will point towards small players being able to thrive in NHL, but I’m not sure that they will ever be taken as early on as they should be.”–

    It’s interesting to me that this data suggesting the ability of small players to succeed goes back to the players drafted in the 1980’s – as there is no doubt the doors into the NHL are much more wide open for smaller players today then back in the bad old days ….

  • Off the wall

    I gush when I mention Matty Phillips!
    Having watched him grow with the Royals the last 3 years, there’s absolutely nothing that will stop this kid.
    To take a trademark from Stroman( blue jays) “Height doesn’t measure heart”
    And he has it in spades..

    Not only is he a great young man to talk to, he’s a genuine soul. I’m so happy for him.

    He’s the one prospect I’ll be rooting for the most, having watched him GROW as a player.

    Go get em Matty, you ‘baby face assassin’, the NHL awaits you!

    • Phockey

      Hey OTW any interesting prospects to watch on the Royals this year? I moved to Victoria at least 3 years too late. It would have been fun to wander down to the rink to see this kid shine.

      • Off the wall

        All 3 of these players I would watch for. As far as I know, they haven’t been drafted yet. They are goaltender Griffen Outhouse, forward Dante Hannoun and defenceman Ralph Jarratt.

        They are the oldest players on the team (20) but the ones that I know of that should be back this season.

  • Intercourse the Penguins

    Phillips is the Screwdriver. He fastens d-men in place and freezes goalies like pictures hung on the wall. His upside is more than just butts in the seats in Stockton.He is slippery and crafty but has a steep hill to climb.

  • The Doctor

    I’ve seen Phillips play for the Royals and he’s a genius on the powerplay, a true powerplay natural, a bit like Jonathan Drouin. Very good at using the boards, hanging out by the boards, waiting for an opening and then initiating quality scoring chances.

  • Purple Hazze

    Any thoughts in the Nation on how Phillips compares to Yamamoto? My Oiler friends have him pegged as sure bet. I find that interesting considering they’re both about the same size and they both had similar productive years in the WHL, albeit Phillips did it across the whole season while Yamamoto only played 40 games. Outside of Oiler circles I have heard Yamamoto get praise but is that more of him having first round pedigree?

    • Neddd

      @Purple Hazze

      Yamomoto put up bigger points in both his draft and draft +1 seasons (ppg basis for draft
      +1 due to injury). So he’s done more than Phillips at a younger age which matters when you’re comparing teenagers. Plus Yamomoto did have a good showing in the NHL games he appeared in last year (albeit small sample size).

      • Baalzamon

        Not quite. They were drafted a year apart but with Yamamoto being one of the oldest draft eligibles from his year, they’re actually pretty much the same age (five months apart, which is far closer than Yamamoto is to, say, Nick Suzuki (11 months), who was drafted the same year as he).

        That is: Yamamoto had slightly better numbers and was slightly younger. But he also had a slightly better supporting cast.

        The really telling part is this though: Yamamoto was picked in the first round, Phillips in the sixth. So is Yamamoto overrated, or is Phillips underrated?

        • Neddd

          @Baalzamon
          I was comparing their draft years and clearly Yamomoto put up better numbers in his draft year and draft +1 (ppg basis) which means something. Also, if Yamomoto is receiving praise from the broader hockey community that must also say something. But I understand that keeping an impartial/objective view point can be difficult when you allow your emotions to control your opinion.

          • Neddd

            @Baalzamon
            You emphasized the Yamomoto’s point production as being only “slightly” better in his draft and draft +1 seasons. Yamomoto produced at a 1.5 ppg pace in his draft year, that was 50% better than Phillips which is huge, not only “slightly” better. Hence why he was drafted in the first round.

            Sorry I just assumed it was emotions clouding your judgement, I apologize if it is something else. But clearly you are not being objective.

          • Baalzamon

            Neither are you. As I noted above, you can’t compare Yamamoto in his draft year to Phillips in his, because they’re only five months apart in age. What you’re doing is comparing Phillips to a Yamamoto that’s seven months older. You should compare Phillips’ draft +1 to Yamamoto’s draft year (in other words, you should compare their production in the exact same year because they’re in the same age group).

            Phillips 16/17: 1.28PPG Phillips 17/18: 1.577PPG
            Yamamoto 16/17: 1.52PPG Yamamoto 17/18: 1.6PPG

            Note how Phillips almost entirely closed the gap last season.

      • Redleader

        Lol Phillips did it by himself though!!! Yamamoto may have had a little help (better linemates) but are you seriously comparing or 6 th round pick to a 1 rst (assuming your a soiler) that’s Awesome!!! I love it !!!! So your saying we absolutely scored on this pick? Got it thx you for clearing that up .

  • Stockton's Finest

    I bought a new, bigger notebook for this season to better track these players.

    I will have my work cut out for me trying to track all of these players.

    Challenge accepted. Bring on the season!!!!

    I and Mrs. Finest are “jonesing” so much for the season we may take the 3 hour drive to Bakersfied for the 1st of the 2 Stockton pre-season games.

    • Redleader

      I thought I was stoked for last season,but this season I’m already counting the hours ,funny last season had so many soiler trolls ……….hmmmmm……..I wonder why so quiet ?……..😇

  • SeanCharles

    I don’t want to be one of the few negative guys but I don’t see how this kid is ranked ahead of Parsons.

    I can somewhat understand him being ahead of Gillies, even if he isn’t for me personally, but to be ahead of Parsons is crazy.

    Goalies are voodoo, I know but Parsons has an elite skillset as well and seems to be overlooked after an injury riddled rookie season as a pro.

    Just my opinion but Phillips is likely 8 or 9 on my list – but like I said I can understand the goaltender pessimism.

  • Just.Visiting

    A great example of why I’d like to see teams be able to address one additional player. How great it would be to have a potential offensive specialist at your disposal for PP, shootout if there wasn’t a fit on a regular line.

  • calgaryfan

    Like others I have watched Phillips during his time here in Victoria. He is very determined and a tough guy. He takes hits and abuse but never stops and never complains, just keeps to his game trying to beat the opponent. I am cheering for him and hope the Flames give him a real opportunity to make the team in the future.

      • mrroonie

        From when they started the countdown:

        “Every August, we go through this process: combing through the list of any Calder-eligible Flames player and ranking them all, 1-20. There were 29 potential candidates this year, so nine got left off of the final ranking.”

        Andersson is still Calder-eligible regardless of whether he’s with the Heat or the Flames.

      • Redleader

        If you look at his second half of his first year pro it is very good sign . (Foo) I can’t wait for preseason! Lots of players that I don’t know very well , not all these old has been pto’s etc . Trevling laying down the law!! It’s Awesome.

  • MWflames

    6. Foo
    5. Kylington
    4. Mangiapane
    3. Dube
    2. Andersson
    1. Valimaki

    In reality I’d take Parsons over Foo and maybe kylington. He’ll bounce back to blue Chip territory after an injury riddled first pro year.