Ottawa 67’s star defenseman Jack Matier greeted journalists at a post-game press conference on Thanksgiving Day with an easy smile and warm hello. He had a lot to be thankful for after scoring his first Ontario Hockey League (OHL) goal on his way to tallying five points in his team’s 7-2 rout of the visiting Oshawa Generals. If that wasn’t enough, he topped the day off by signing an entry-level contract (ELC) with the Nashville Predators, who took him in this year’s NHL Entry Draft in the fourth round.
Matier Giving Thanks for Predators Contract
Asked which he was most thankful for on the day – his contract, his first goal or the multiple points, he replied, “I think the contract was something in the back of my head for sure. Obviously, it’s a dream come true. Every kid wants to play in the NHL, and this is a stepping stone towards that.”
In keeping with the long tradition of Canadian hockey players, Matier has an unassuming style and seems to shun the spotlight. After acknowledging his newly struck ELC to reporters, he quickly put the focus back on the Ottawa 67’s, saying, “I’m thankful for just the game I think the team played and that I was able to contribute.”
Matier’s Path to the OHL
Matier’s journey to his Monday triumph was tortuous because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Sault Ste. Marie native saw action in 56 games during his 2019-20 rookie season in the nation’s capital, he missed the entire 2020-21 campaign because the pandemic forced the league to scratch its entire season.
He played just eight games last season – seven of them in April’s 2021 World U-18 Championship. The eighth was in a Predators uniform, playing in a September exhibition game against the Florida Panthers.
Matier’s Scouting Reports
Matier’s five-point performance on Monday afternoon belies the scouting reports written on him up to now. Most have pegged him as a stay-at-home defenceman who rarely takes risks on the blue lines at either end of the rink. He is very cautious about jumping up on the play from the offensive zone blue line.
Rare is the odd-man rush that he gives up, and when defending against them, he keeps the attack to the outside and defends the net with his body. He can and does use his formidable size to clear out the front of his goal. Not only that, but he has been used on shut-down lines and the penalty kill extensively.
If there is a strike against his game in scouting reports, it’s that he sacrifices his offensive contributions by playing the blue line so conservatively. While many pundits say he’s never going to be an Erik Karlsson or Adam Fox, he has the ability to boost his offensive statistics. If his performance on Thanksgiving Day heralds things to come, 67’s fans can expect to see just that as the season unfolds.
As Matier is such a good positional player, he hasn’t needed top-end speed to make an impact defensively. Still, developing as a stronger, faster skater would boost his offensive.
As important as a player’s skills are, they must be combined with traits such as the will to win, leadership and determination. For Ottawa’s head coach Dave Cameron, Matier possesses these qualities in abundance. The new bench boss with the 67’s said, “he puts the work in every day. He was a guy I don’t think that was expected to make that Canadian U-18 team that won the gold medal this year, but he found a way onto that team, which was the best in the world at that age”.
Cameron admits to harnessing Matier’s character in his coaching efforts, saying of the young star’s presence in the dressing room that “what’s really nice about it from a coaching point of view is that he does things the right way so you can point to him and tell younger players that if they want to be a pro then follow him.”
Matier may have inherited some of his character from his father, Mark, who in the early 1990s played with the Soo Greyhounds – a team that won two OHL championships and a Memorial Cup during his time defending the blue line with the team. The Matiers certainly seem to be a hockey family, with 11 of the immediate family and extended clan gathering on Monday night to see Jack play.
Big Expectations on Matier in the 2021-22 Season
With an NHL training camp under his belt and his signature on a newly minted ELC, it’s hard to believe the 18-year-old is just two years removed from his playing days with the Soo Thunderbirds Midget AAA team. Even so, great expectations have been placed on Matier this season.
Ottawa’s blue line has seen an enormous change, with Noel Hoefenmayer, Merrick Rippon, Nikita Okhotiuk, and Kevin Bahl having left. Matier knows he is being compared to Hofenmayer and will be expected to fill his skates this season. Of the comparisons to Hofenmyer that many are drawing, he said, “it’s a huge compliment. He was a huge role model for me last year and an awesome guy off and on the ice. I think I’m following in his footsteps becoming a leader on this team slowly.”
Certainly, that is what Cameron expects of him. The former Ottawa Senators bench boss said, “I look to NHL drafted players like Matier to be difference makers and multipliers and make people better. That’s exactly what he is, and he’s a great teammate on top of that too. He’s a big part of this team today and will be moving forward.”
Matier, like the majority of other young men playing in the junior leagues, faces long odds of making it to the NHL. Even still, Cameron said, “his future is bright. It’s in front of him, and I know one thing. It’s that with his work ethic, he’s going to reach his highest level – whatever that is.”
Whether that’s the NHL remains to be seen. Yet one thing is certain, Matier will be fun to watch this year at TD Place as he strives to make his NHL dreams a reality.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney