Johnny Gaudreau is fast, creative and small. So is Calgary Flames prospect Matthew Phillips. A sixth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, at 5-foot-6 and only 140 pounds, Phillips weighed close to 17 pounds less than Gaudreau does now. If you consider that Gaudreau is one of the smallest players in the NHL, Phillips will be a tiny dot on the ice playing against some of the NHL’s giants. If he hopes to have half the career Gaudreau has had to date, size won’t be the only thing Phillips will have to overcome.
It’s not out the realm of possibility. This isn’t to say that Phillips will explode onto the scene in Calgary the way that Gaudreau did. Gaudreau is set to receive a record-breaking contract with the Flames. But, comparisons don’t just come about because Phillips is undersized. Ryan Pike wrote a great piece back in June, which outlines Phillips’ potential as a prospect. These numbers are highlighted by a 76 point season in 72 games with the Victoria Royals of the WHL. The same season in which Phillips won the Jim Piggot Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year. He clearly is a talented offensive player.
Phillips Doesn’t Mind The Comparisons
As a potential hockey star born in Calgary, Phillips understands the comparisons and knows it’s hard for him to escape the similarities. Aaron Vickers an NHL.com correspondent interviewed Phillips who, when asked, thought being compared to Gaudreau was cool. “Being a smaller player, you need to play at a faster pace. If that’s exciting to watch, then that’s great. It’s something that is pretty cool. Getting mentioned with him is pretty special. He’s a guy that I’ve watched a lot and looked up to and tried to model parts of my game after him. It’s pretty cool for sure.”
Phillips isn’t going to let his size stop him from achieving his NHL dream. He’s succeeded at every hockey level including his 2014-15 season in Midget AAA, where he managed to produce with the Calgary Buffaloes. That year he had an impressive 33 goals and 73 points in only 34 games.
A Little More Power
Clearly, skill and speed are not issues for Phillips. He has that in abundance. It’s power and strength that he’ll need to add to his game if he hopes to stand a chance in a tough Pacific Division. In watching Gaudreau, Phillips understands what it will take for him to make that leap. “For me, I need a lot more power in my game,” Phillips said. “I think I’m a pretty quick player, but once you get that power then you kind of have more dimensions to your game and you’re more explosive. If you’re not working on that, then you’re going to fall behind pretty quick.” If he can add lower-body strength to his already speedy and creative disposition, Phillips may fit well in a smaller-mans NHL.
Perhaps it’s not fair to compare these two players as Gaudreau has set the bar extremely high. Despite the NHL being a hockey league more susceptible for smaller, skilled talents to shine, it’s rare for smaller players to make the impact Gaudreau has. Phillips is up to the task and with so many similarities, at the very least, watching Phillips progression should be fun for fans of the Calgary Flames.