By working on his 200-foot game, the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves right winger – Matt Schmalz – is giving his team a significant advantage. However, there’s way too many people focused on his lack of points.
The 6-foot-6, 214-pound Los Angeles Kings prospect was drafted at No. 134 overall at the 2015 Draft and had a pretty good season last year. This year however, his performance hasn’t quite matched up according to a lot hockey insiders.
“He hasn’t put off the offensive talent we’d like,” says Blaine Smith, President of the Sudbury Wolves. “He’s had lots of ups and downs.”
In 66 games last year, Schmalz scored 24 goals and racked up 16 assists for a total of 40 points. That’s a big improvement from 2013-14, when he also played 66 games, but only scored three goals and got five assists. This is when the hockey world started to take notice because the difference between these two seasons was astronomical. This kind of progression is considered to be quite an attractive quality in players.
As of Friday, February 5, 2016 Schmalz has played in 46 games and has scored eight goals and got 15 assists, for a total of 23 points. The rising concern about his performance is not a secret anymore.
Kings Ask Schmalz To Work On 200-Foot Game
Here’s the thing though. Some players are becoming more appealing to professional hockey teams not because of the points they’re putting up, but rather because of their ability to develop defensive abilities. In fact, this is what the Los Angeles Kings asked Schmalz to do according to Smith. That is, to work on his 200-foot game. “He’s a player with an offensive edge to him,” he says. Now, “he needs to work on the defensive side of the puck.”
Hockey is evolving and it’s all because of the advent of 3-on-3 overtime in the NHL. Now, the spotlight is shifting to the not-so-flashy, two-way player who’s increasing his stock value overnight.
Smith traded for Schmalz from Kitchener three years ago when he was the General Manager of the Sudbury Wolves. The most appealing thing about Schmalz back in 2013 was pretty obvious just by looking at him. “I’ve watched him obviously play in his major midget year, as well as a number of players that year,” Smith tells The Hockey Writers. “His size, reach and skill made him stand out.”
With guys like Schmalz, it’s really easy to see where his strengths are; “he’s a very physical player when he throws his weight around,” says Smith. “I haven’t seen him lose a fight. He’s a very good fighter.”
In this video, Kevin Spinozzi, a 6-foot-2, 201-pound defenceman playing for the Sarnia Sting was invited to the Arizona Coyotes NHL Camp in September 2015 as a free agent. During a rookie game against the Kings’ prospects, he takes on Schmalz at their practice facility; Toyota Sports Centre in El Segundo, CA on Sept. 16, 2015.
His size and physical appeal weren’t the only things that stood out either. “I visited his family… ” he says. “His family is supportive of his career.” Meeting the player’s families is a well-known practice for the Sudbury Wolves and the rest of their scouting department. However, “…doing this isn’t as practical as we would like,” Smith adds in. “Last year, we interviewed 30 families.”
On top of that, this year Schmalz has taken on a new role as the team’s Assistant Captain. “He just shows good leadership,” Smith goes on. “From a management perspective, he has the team’s interests at heart.”
200-Foot Game Causes Low Point Generation
Clearly Schmalz has a good heart, but determining the root cause for his low-point generation this season has nothing to do with anything off the ice. Perhaps it has a little bit more to do with the added pressure of putting up the points all together though? “Knowing Matt, the reason is he’s trying to carry the team on his shoulders,” Smith tells The Hockey Writers. “We went on a losing streak. He’s been trying to do everything as much as he can on his own.”
This is all part of the development process though. Schmalz’s role is not to do everything on his own, as much as he can. He needs to curb that type of thinking. Instead, “he needs to use his line mates,” says Smith. “He’s a competitive player and I think that’s one of the reasons why he’s trying so hard this year.”
From an outsider looking in, the crux of the two-way forward starts with mentality and ends with defensive play. “The good thing with Matt is, he’s such a quality person,” says Smith. Does being a quality person translate into being a quality player though? Some might argue that character has nothing to do with performance, while others may say they go hand-in-hand.
Perseverance is getting guys noticed by prospective NHL teams and Canadian Hockey League (CHL) coaches are laying down the ground work in preparation for this summer’s upcoming draftee harvest. “Ideally, he’s a power forward,” Smith says. “He’s a player that creates a lot of offence. He keeps his eyes to the net. That’s what drives him.”
Historically, if players didn’t put up the points, their chances of signing the coveted NHL contract were slim to none. If you change your evaluation criteria to that of the NHL’s current market demands though, you’ll see that Schmalz is getting primed for the picking.
Schmalz is thinking about his 200-foot game and that’s why this year hasn’t yielded the impressive points. His focus has shifted to becoming a more complete player, rather than trying to outshine everyone else. “It’s all about consistency,” says Smith. He needs to consistently play hockey the way he’s capable of playing it. If Schmalz can make his game more consistent while improving his defensive abilities, it looks like his chances of playing for the Kings will skyrocket.
I’m a Hockey Journalist based out of Barrie, Ontario, a Contributing Writer for The Hockey Writers covering OHL, and NHL prospects with an insatiable thirst for all things LA Kings, and PR gal for Abel Sports Management.