If there was a list of prospects I’m rooting the hardest for Matthew Phillips would sit atop of that list. The soft-spoken and diminutive Calgary native was the smallest draft eligible player in the Western Hockey League when the Flames grabbed him in the sixth round back in 2016. He’s defied the odds and continues to be an elite offensive player. He’s the ultimate dark horse and we check in with him here at number nine. 

How we got here

We got here because Phillips has been exceeding expectations at every level. He tore up the Calgary minor hockey scene and then tore up the Western League in Victoria putting up seasons of 76, 90, and 112 points with the Royals over his three years on the coast.

Despite claiming Rookie of the Year honours in the WHL (finishing 19th in league scoring) he fell to the Flames in the late stages of the 2016 draft. He scored 50 goals the next year (third overall) and 48 the next (fifth overall). The first-round talent was pretty much snubbed because of size concerns. Size, “schmize,” says I. 

In his first season with the Heat, Phillips didn’t light the world on fire but he proved he could be an impactful player against professional competition. Seeing third line deployment, Phillips performed admirably trailing only Alan Quine, Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane (remember them?) in primary points per 60 minutes.

His second-year pro started off just dandy. He put up 22 points in 25 games before earning a call up to the big club in December. He didn’t see any action but he spent a few days with the big club as an extra forward. Shortly thereafter his season was derailed by a knee cap injury. At the time of his injury, he was top 10 in AHL scoring with 30 points in 28 games. He struggled to find his scoring touch again when returning from injury in February, scoring only once over the span of the last 10 games he played with the Heat in 2020.

The now 22-year-old had the chance to skate with the main group in the Flames camp ahead of phase three of the NHL’s return to play protocol.

Stats, numbers, and everything therein

Despite the injury setback, Phillips finished fifth in team scoring with the Heat this season. 

Season Team Lge GP G A Pts
2017-18 Victoria Royals WHL 71 48 64 112
2018-19 Stockton Heat AHL 65 13 25 38
2019-20 Stockton Heat AHL 38 15 18 33

He continued to be a strong even strength primary point producer as well finishing second in that category behind only Austin Czarnik.

Player EV P1/GP
Austin Czarnik 0.5625
Matthew Phillips 0.5526
Alan Quine 0.5263
Ryan Lomberg 0.5238
Luke Philp 0.4231
Buddy Robinson 0.4222
Glenn Gawdin 0.3962

There have been some hills and valleys at the pro level but it’s hard to argue his ability to produce. With every new challenge, Phillips has been able to put up points and be an offensive driver. 

Despite his size always being a talking point his speed, smarts, puck skills, and competitiveness have always levelled the playing field.

He uses his stick creatively and exceptionally to create scoring chances. He’s intelligent and uses his slipperiness deceptively to get open and draw defenders.

Those in the know

Stockton Heat head coach Cail MacLean spoke to how Phillips continued to adjust to pro hockey:

He certainly was a player last year that was learning how to use his skill set against AHL competition. Because he has to have a more intelligent approach, he has to use his quickness and a good stick and he was able to find ways to do that. He was really clicking along and at the top of our team and pushing I think a point per game pace before his injury struck and it was an unfortunate setback for him, but I think it was a good indication of how he was growing to be able to utilize his best assets in terms of figuring out how to handle this competition. So he’s going to look to really build on that.

On the horizon

It’s a big year for Phillips. No doubt he will be on the most interesting players to watch in camp. Will he be able to crack the squad right out of training camp? We’ll see, but he’s absolutely in the mix. He has the skills and works his butt off every single shift. He’s passed the ‘play against men test’ and now it’s a question of how effective can he be at the NHL level.

He’s been compared to many lightweight/welterweights with similar skill sets before. In fact, despite lacking the pest factor and general nastiness, he grades out similarly to skaters like Marchand and Gallagher.

But hey, this play where he lays out Kiefer Sherwood and creates a Luke Philp goal reminds you of a certain number 11 in Montreal, no?

If all goes well, Phillips should be at least pushing for a roster spot in training camp. He’ll have a prime opportunity to continue to develop his potentially elite skill-set in Stockton and certainly is high on the call-up list. So far the Calgary kid continues to defy the odds.

FlamesNation Top 20 Prospects 2020

The no-votes Missed the cut
#20: Tyler Parsons #19: Alexander Yelesin
#18: Ryan Francis #17: Martin Pospisil
#16: Luke Philp #15: Eetu Tuulola
#14: Johannes Kinnvall #13: Ilya Nikolayev
#12: Yan Kuznetsov #11: Adam Ruzicka
#10: Jeremie Poirier