A running trend with the top five players in the FlamesNation Top 20 Prospects is that they are on the smaller end of things. With only one player clocking in at over six feet tall, they’ve instead gotten into the top five by relying on their skill to take them places.
Coming in at number four, Matthew Phillips has embraced life on Team Tiny, and looks to be another late round steal for the Calgary Flames.
How did we get here?
Like many members of the FlamesNation family, Phillips comes from Calgary, AB. He played Bantam hockey with the Bisons, and he played Midget hockey with the Buffaloes. Eventually, he joined the Victoria Royals after being drafted by them in the 2013 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft, just in time for the NHL Draft.
Despite being just 5’7″, Phillips impressed enough to get drafted by the Flames in the sixth round, going at 166th overall. He then spent the next two years in Victoria getting better, capping off his junior career with a 48 goal, 112 point season with the Royals.
It was then decided that Phillips was big enough for the little leagues, and he just capped off his rookie season in the American Hockey League.
Stats, numbers, and everything therein
Phillips didn’t set the AHL ablaze the same way he had left the WHL, but that’s also to be expected since it’s a huge jump for him and what he’s used to. There were hopes that he would slot into Stockton’s top six, but ended up being the third line RW alongside Glenn Gawdin for most of the season.
All in all, it’s encouraging that he ended the season with more than 0.5 points per game. For what it’s worth, he also had a single minor penalty, proving once and for all that you don’t need size to bring #truculence.
In all seriousness though, while most of Stockton’s season was a valley that started rising again too late in the season, Phillips was one of the few consistent players through the Heat’s worst stretches. He started the season with no points in his first eight games, and then had 23 points over the next 23 games.
Granted, he then hit a bit of inconsistency over the next stretch, but like the rest of the Heat, finished strong and showed encouraging signs for next year.
Perhaps the most encouraging statistic (courtesy of Christian Tiberi’s excellent wrap-up of Phillips’ season) is that despite being eighth among Heat forwards in average TOI (minimum ten games played), he had the highest points per 60 (2.15) of any forward who didn’t spend time with the Flames, and was third behind Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane.
For a rookie campaign, those are building blocks that you can feel good about.
Those in the know
It’s one thing to assume that Phillips had to adjust to his time in the AHL. It’s another thing to hear it from Stockton Heat head coach Cail MacLean:
It was sort of expected that someone like Matthew, given where he’s coming from jumping into the pro game, was going to have to find a way to learn to play his style of game against bigger, stronger opponents in a faster game. And so it did take a little time for him to do that, but something about that says a lot about Matt Phillips is how he did adapt and how he found a way to use his quickness and his hockey sense to be a factor.
MacLean praised the strong second half that Phillips had, and touched on what Phillips can do to improve into a dominant offensive player:
We obviously believe in his offensive ability and we want to see him grow that. He did play in powerplay situations last season – he had to earn his way on there, but he did play in a lot of powerplay situations. We expect that this year he’ll earn his way into that position again and obviously he’s won some trust there in terms of his ability to make plays on the powerplay so that’s going to help offensively. Another aspect of Matt’s game is that he’s very smart. He’s got good hockey sense and he’s very responsible defensively, so finding a way to work with Matt and give him a little more exposure on the penalty kill, which is something that he did do in junior, is another way that we can expand his role a little bit.
On the horizon
Phillips is a bright spot for the Flames’ organization, especially considering they nabbed him in the sixth round. He’s the first skater from the Stockton Heat to appear on this list, and you know he’s like to maximize his time down there and get called up to Calgary.
There are two things that will indicate success for Phillips next season, and that’s increased ice time and overall consistency. If he was able to accomplish what he did last season learning on the third line, it’s appetizing to think what he could do with a permanent role in the top six.
Given Calgary’s lack of right wingers, Phillips has a great shot to find his way into a couple of Flames’ games next season. It’s unlikely that he’ll have to start looking for a home here, but if he’s able to keep progressing the way that Calgary wants him to, it wouldn’t be a shock to have a new shortest player on the Flames in the coming seasons.