Roy Sports Group


Flames take long look at prospect even smaller than Johnny Gaudreau

September 10th, 2019 by Wes Gilbertson

Size him up, and it’s easy — too easy — to count this kid out.

To his credit, Matthew Phillips doesn’t seem like such a long-shot anymore.

Make no mistake, nobody is calling Phillips a can’t-miss, but it feels less and less far-fetched to think that this pint-sized prospect will earn a sniff with the Calgary Flames someday.

“Well . . . he just works at it. This guy works at his game, he gets better,” praised Calgary’s director of player development, Ray Edwards. “He puts the time in. He invests. He’s coachable. You ask the strength guys, he doesn’t miss a day. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to learn. On the ice, skills, mental performance . . . At the end of it, maybe he’s an NHL player and plays 15 years. And if it doesn’t happen, he will never say that he didn’t do everything possible to get it done. He does everything he has to do.

“He’s just a guy you want to see have success because he does everything the right way. For our young guys coming up, it’s like, ‘Just watch this guy.’ Because if you can do what he does, you’ll be just fine.”

Imagine that, the rest of the Flames’ rookie-campers looking up to the smallest guy in Calgary’s prospect pipeline.

Now 21, Phillips is listed by the team at 5-foot-7 and 155 lb., and those numbers are typically a tad generous.

For comparison sake, consider that Johnny Gaudreau is two inches taller and 10 lb. heavier.

Thing is, the itsy-bitsy right-winger — a former captain of the Victoria Royals in the Western Hockey League and now preparing for his second campaign with the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat — seems to find a way to stick out, especially against his prospect peers.

Multiple management-sorts had him pegged as the best player on the ice in Saturday’s 1-0 overtime victory against the Edmonton Oilers’ up-and-comers in Red Deer. He capped that performance with the only goal of the evening in sudden-death.

Wearing No. 41 on his back, Phillips will be worth watching again as the Battle of Alberta hopefuls rematch Tuesday at the Saddledome, the final item on the rookie-camp itinerary.

Main camp opens with Thursday’s medicals and fitness testing.
“I feel like I’ve improved every summer, and that’s a pretty reassuring thing,” Phillips said. “Every camp when I’ve come back, I’ve felt better and better. That’s good, and that means that I’m doing something well development-wise. I feel like I’m getting better and better.”

You don’t find sure-things in the sixth round of the NHL Draft, and Phillips was certainly a flier when the Flames called his name at No. 166 overall in 2016.

Calgary’s scouting staff was intrigued by his skill, by his hockey sense, by his knack for finding a way to make an impact on the game.

The question mark then, just as it is today, is his size.

“Not a chance he can be written off, ever,” emphasized Flames left-winger Dillon Dube, who goes way back with Phillips and now has 25 nights of NHL know-how on his own resume. “I don’t see the size thing anymore. You see so many little guys come in, and it’s not that the little guys just make it — they’re some of the best players. You see the skill-set that he has, it’s incredible. I know in Stockton, you don’t get to see him as much, but his finesse around the ice, however I can put . . . It’s incredible. It’s like an art-form. It looks pretty easy.

“The thing is, when he goes up in levels, everybody says, ‘Ok, he’s done.’ That’s the way it goes. Another guy who was like that from Calgary, played in the same (Buffaloes AAA) organization, was Brayden Point. He was the same. He was tiny. He was a late draft in bantam because at every level, it was like, ‘He’s done. He’s done.’ And not a bad year for him last year.

“Obviously, Phil didn’t catch up to the height there, but you have to love for him when people keep saying that, because you know that only fuels him.”

It’s not knocking the kid to say that Phillips won’t be the next Brayden Point.

He won’t be the next Johnny Gaudreau, either.

Could he climb his way to the NHL, though, perhaps even as a full-timer?

Why not?

As a rookie pro, Phillips posted a very respectable stat-line with the AHL’s Heat — 13 goals and 25 assists in 65 regular-season spins. That included an eight-game point-spree around the holidays.

The next step is to become more of a standout at that level. He will be the first to tell you that.
“I saw a young man (last season) who obviously has been acclimatized to having to sort of work his way into different situations and prove doubters wrong and I saw somebody who obviously because of that has had to study the game and understand it,” said Heat head coach Cail MacLean, who is running the practices at Flames’ prospect camp.

“And I think what really stands out is his ability to read the game and his ability to then adapt to it. I think another thing that stands out is he is exceptional away from the puck, I feel. Defensively, positionally, he is very good.

“I love the 38 points that he had last season. I love the fact that he had a run of about 27 points in 27 games. But what I really love is underneath it all is defensive reliability and team commitment and a sense about him where he understands structure and does a really good job of executing that.

“A lot of times, you’re still really grinding young guys on their habits away from the puck. I think that is strong for him. I think that now it’s about taking it to the next level in terms of his end-points — not production, but his ability to create the time and space to make offensive plays, and I think that is coming with his work ethic in the summer. Strength and conditioning and skating-wise, it looks like it is all taking forward steps.”

Skating was a focal point this off-season for Phillips, a local lad who doesn’t have to wrestle with whether to spend the flip-flop months in his hometown or train with fellow Flames prospects in Calgary.

He already has decent speed, but he is determined to become more elusive.

“As everything gets faster and the guys get bigger, I need to get away from them easier,” he reasoned. “That’s something I have been working pretty hard on. I feel faster and I feel stronger on my skates. I think once I can create that space, then I can do what comes easy to me — making plays.”

Nobody has ever questioned that play-making ability.

Too bad Phillips is the smallest guy ever to be nicknamed ‘Bubba,’ but don’t count this kid out.

“It’s easier to say stronger and faster and all that, and that’s true,” Edwards said of Phillips’ keys to progression. “But he’s figuring out how he’s going to do this thing. You watch how a guy like Johnny had to figure it out, and he figured it out early and right away. As you watched Matt last year and his growth in the American League, you could see him starting to figure it out. He can’t get a puck like Martin Pospisil gets a puck. He has to be smarter. He has to be ahead of it. He has to figure out where a puck is going to be and get under a stick versus using his body.

“He stole six or seven pucks (Saturday) because he was on top of it, he was reading the play. That’s how he is learning. That’s how he is going to be successful.”

Phillips, the wee-est of the Battle of Alberta wannabes, will aim to steal the spotlight again Tuesday.

“I think a big thing at these camps is being confident in yourself and believing in yourself because it can be pretty intimidating, especially when it gets into main camp,” Phillips said. “You really need to have that confidence and that is something I feel so far this camp really good about is my confidence and just believing in myself. I think you talk to the best athletes in the world, they all believe in themselves and their abilities.

“One thing I learned last year was things change a lot in pro hockey, lineup-wise and guys going up and down. So it’s definitely important to just focus on yourself and, as cliche as it is, day-by-day is a big thing. If you keep trying to get better, then you’re going to see those improvements and you’re going to gain your confidence. I think if I end up in Stockton, I want to be a go-to guy and create offence and be responsible and play in big situations.

“I think I’m ready for that. I think in the second half of last year, I really came on and got that comfort level and got used to the pace. I’ve had a good summer. I feel really good. I feel ready.”

follow us


Congrats to @GageGoncalves on his 1st @NHL contract with the @TBLightning! Gage is represented by Allain Roy & Shane Corston. #RSGHockey #Bolts

About a year ago from Roy Sports Group's Twitter via Twitter for iPhone


Professional hockey agency that has been helping clients achieve their pro potential since 2001.

Our Promise

With a successful and high profile career comes the added pressure to perform consistently in the necessary daily tasks as well.
Roy Sports Group allows athletes to make educated decisions about their future and focus on their performance, confident with the knowledge
that the details of their life on and off the playing field, as well as their financial future are secure.
View Full Site