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.
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|