The Calgary Flames have been prioritizing skill at the draft table under Brad Treliving. If a player is good enough and produces, the Flames will pick them despite flaws which cause other teams to pass on them.
Matthew Phillips may be the most extreme example of that. Despite having a pretty good skill set, he is 5’7″, which has held him back at every level of hockey despite producing enough to justify better opportunities. The Flames scooped him up in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, and he’s quickly become one of the most exciting prospects the team has stashed away.
In his first pro season, Phillips has shown flashes that he might be able to arrive in the NHL sooner rather than later.
When we last checked in
Coming off a 50 goal, 90 point season, Phillips dragged the Victoria Royals kicking and screaming into the playoffs with a dominant 112 point season. His numbers were great, but that was to be expected. Phillips was tearing up the WHL since stepping into the league, hitting a point per game in every single season he played.
The question was always whether or not he could translate it into pro success. Despite his junior resume, he was sent home early from Flames camp and was completely snubbed by Hockey Canada for the World Juniors. Those are likely height related grievances, but still raised some red flags nonetheless.
Although he still had a year left of WHL eligibility, Phillips jumped to the pros, partially thanks to an impressive training camp.
— Sportsnet 960 (@Sportsnet960) September 20, 2018
He stuck around with Stockton for the entire season, playing all but three games for the club. Phillips mostly saw middle six deployment, mostly on the third line with Glenn Gawdin and a rotating third man, but did bounce around from time to time.
Numbers & Growth
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Phillips had his peaks and valleys this season. He was pointless through the first eight games, found a bit of a rhythm, dropped off, had an absolutely nutty nine game streak where he picked up 14 points, fell asleep again, and then woke up at the end of the season. It’s most likely as case of rookie struggles compounded with the Heat’s general lack of consistency, as Phillips was one of the stronger all around Heat forwards at 5v5, posting a 51.32 GF% and a 3.39 GFrel%.
Obviously, it’s much harder for Phillips to be the same level of dominant when he’s jumping from being a senior player in the WHL to being a rookie in the AHL, but he showed well for himself. He still is a primary points machine, leading Flames AHL prospects in primary points, both at 5v5 and all strengths. He was also less reliant on the powerplay for scoring this season, which is always a good sign.
When you consider the circumstances he found himself in, Phillips had an absolutely tremendous year. He put up top six production with third line minutes. According to prospect-stats’ TOI estimates, Phillips was eighth among all Heat forwards (11.61 minutes) who played at least ten games in 5v5 time on ice, but was behind only Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane with regards to points per 60 minutes (2.15).
Phillips certainly had his struggles, but make no mistake: he can absolutely produce. The key next season will be consistency, which may develop with opportunity. The Heat would be nuts to not allow him more ice time, both at 5v5 and on the powerplay.
When comparing 5v5 and all situations scoring of AHL forwards since 2005-06, around 30% of players with similar production to Phillips eventually make the NHL in a significant capacity, going on to score around 0.4 PPG (30-35 points). That’s not out of line with how his WHL career stacked up, with his later seasons indicating that he is likely tops out as a middle six winger. The odds aren’t exactly in his favour, but they’re likely negatively impacted by some of his usage, though the impact is not likely that dramatic.
Throughout his career, he compares favourably to players such as Brendan Gallagher, Dwight King, Jordan Weal, and Cody Eakin. Gallagher is an interesting comparable, as him and Phillips have posted extremely similar numbers throughout their respective WHL and AHL careers and are both tiny guys (Gallagher 5’9, Phillips 5’7), though Phillips doesn’t have the same snarl.
As tempting as it is to place the exciting Phillips in the NHL, I figure the Flames will go down the Andrew Mangiapane path given the similar career histories of the two. They both had dominant junior careers and an okay rookie pro season, so it stands to reason that a bit more time might get him to that point. The Flames’ RW depth might be a bit shaky, but I doubt Phillips is going to steal a spot out of camp.
Phillips will likely be a key piece of the Heat next season, and will probably be the first to be called when someone gets injured. With Spencer Foo and Kerby Rychel gone, and Dube and Mangiapane likely graduated, that opens up a top six spot for Phillips. Even if the Flames stay healthy next season, he seems good enough that he won’t be down in Stockton for the whole year.
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