If Huberdeau misses any time, Matthew Phillips should be the next Flame up
Photo credit:Candice Ward/Calgary Wranglers
By Mike Gould10 months ago
Here’s the full list of players with more goals than Matthew Phillips in the American Hockey League this season:
And, for good measure, here’s the full list of players with more points than Matthew Phillips in the AHL this season:
There’s no getting around it: Phillips is playing like a rockstar with the Calgary Wranglers right now and is making perhaps his strongest case yet for an extended look in the National Hockey League.
The 24-year-old forward leads the A in both goals and points. Of the AHL’s top 20 scorers, only Phillips, Ruslan Iskhakov, Alex Steeves, and Kirill Marchenko are eligible for the Calder Trophy. Right now, Phillips is the very best of the bunch.
The knock against Phillips has always been his size. He’s put on a few pounds since he weighed in at 140 back at the 2016 combine — the AHL’s most recent measurements have him at 5’8″ and 160 pounds — but he’s certainly not an imposing figure.
That said, he scores. And he does it a lot. He’s a fantastic playmaker and transition player — the Wranglers’ power play always runs through him — but he might be an even better finisher.
Since the start of his first full AHL season, Phillips has scored on 17.9 percent of his shots (76 goals on 425 attempts). His current 33.3 percent conversion rate isn’t sustainable, but he has an incredibly high baseline.
Phillips has been a big factor behind the Wranglers’ power play operating at a division-leading 26.9 percent conversion rate through the first 10 games of the season, but he was also hugely impactful for the Stockton Heat during five-on-five play in 2021–22 and is one of very few Wranglers regulars with a plus/minus rating out of the negatives to start this year.
Of Phillips’ 31 goals for the Heat in 2021–22, 21 came at even strength. He also scored the first two shorthanded goals of his AHL career. Only eight of his goals came on the PP — although he’s halfway to replicating that mark this season.
The Calgary Flames have lost six games in a row. It’s unreasonable to expect any one player to break the team out of its slump. That goes for both the incumbents and the kids on the farm.
But … Jonathan Huberdeau is injured. He missed Tuesday’s game against the New Jersey Devils and was spotted wearing a walking boot at Prudential Centre in Newark after the game. We haven’t received any updates on what Huberdeau’s recovery timeline might be — for all we know, he could play against Boston on Thursday — but if he’s going to miss any set length of time, the Flames will likely need to recall somebody.
Frankly, the Flames also look a little listless. They need a spark. Their transition play has been poor, their collective shooting percentage is rock-bottom, and they’re finding new ways to lose every single night.
Again, Phillips isn’t going to be this team’s saviour. He could be good, he could be mediocre, or he could straight-up just not be an NHL player. But we just won’t know until we see him play legit NHL minutes with legit NHL players. (For what it’s worth, he had a solid camp).
Looking back at when the Flames drafted Phillips back in 2016, it’s hard to fathom the team having anticipated a better post-draft trajectory for the Calgary-born winger. He’s done everything the organization has asked of him at the AHL level. Only months ago, he played a huge role in the Heat reaching the fourth round of the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Phillips has consistently made his linemates better at the AHL level. Both Adam Ruzicka and Jakob Pelletier have benefited greatly from playing on a line with No. 11. Right now, Phillips is doing a ton to elevate Radim Zohorna’s production. He’s been stirring the drink on the farm for years and years.
Connor Zary has been terrific with the Wranglers. Zohorna and Pelletier have had their moments, too, as has Ben Jones. But Phillips has been on another level to start this season and is the clear choice for a promotion to the big club if Huberdeau is unavailable for a little while.
Right now, there might not be anybody in the organization on a hotter streak than Matthew Phillips. And a player on that kind of roll might just be exactly the kind of spark this Flames team needs to rejuvenate its top nine.
At this point, what do they have to lose? If he succeeds, great; if he doesn’t turn this ship around, it won’t be on him.
In most NHL systems, Phillips is a player who likely has to operate in a top-nine role. Right now, the Flames have a top-nine spot wide open for the taking. They have plenty of bottom-six forwards — and make no mistake, guys like Trevor Lewis and Brett Ritchie have absolutely been effective when played in the right spots.
But if Huberdeau is out, the Flames need another player whose first priority is creating offence. And with all due respect to Wranglers forwards like Walker Duehr, Clark Bishop, and Adam Klapka, creating offence isn’t even their primary role at the AHL level.
The Wranglers’ very best offensive catalyst right now is Phillips. He might currently be the top offensive player in the AHL. And if the Flames end up needing to recall somebody, Phillips should be that player.
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