Matthew Phillips is an exciting and talented Calgary Flames prospect who more than makes up for his small stature with excellent skating and puck-handling ability.
The third-year professional continued to make his mark on the American Hockey League in 2020–21, tying for first place on the Stockton Heat in points while locking down a spot on the team’s top line for the entire season.
Phillips also earned his first NHL game in the Flames’ season finale against the Vancouver Canucks. The 23-year-old forward looks to be on the verge of breaking into the big leagues on a full-time basis; let’s take a look at how he arrived at this point.
Phillips’ strengths and weaknesses
Elusive, quick, and tenacious, Phillips offers a wide array of enticing attributes. His shot is precise, even if it lacks velocity.
No other player on the 2020–21 Heat could replicate Phillips’ passing ability.
Multiple times during the 2020–21 season, Phillips and linemate Adam Ruzicka resembled “lite” versions of Flames stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Phillips—the “Gaudreau” of the duo—is a little bit smaller than his NHL counterpart and has a worse shot, but he often evokes “Johnny Hockey” with his incredible stickwork and lateral movement.
Yes, Phillips most recently stood in at 5’7″ and 155 pounds. He’s small. He’s also supremely skilled and has top-level skating, puck-handling, passing, and goal-scoring capabilities.
Phillips’ on-ice results
Phillips tied for the 2020–21 Stockton Heat team lead with 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 30 games. He fired 56 shots on goal during those contests, averaging a career-high 1.87 shots-per-game.
Only Adam Ruzicka (13) scored more primary points at even-strength than Phillips’ 12. Phillips led the Heat with seven primary points on the power play and 19, total. That’s right: Only two of Phillips’ 21 points last season were secondary assists.
Statistics website Pick224 estimates Phillips averaged 18:40 per game in 2020–21, third behind only Ruzicka and Byron Froese among Heat forwards. During Phillips’ shifts at 5v5, the Heat were outscored by a 30-22 margin; with him on the bench, they surrendered 40 goals and scored 37.
Using Pick224’s average TOI estimate, Phillips averaged the second-most points-per-60 on the 2020–21 Heat. Only Martin Pospisil—who played just 14 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury—bested (2.22) Phillips’ mark of 2.04 points-per-60.
Phillips clicked with Ruzicka early in the season. When Ruzicka embarked on his record-setting streak of four consecutive three-point games in late February, Phillips supported him with 10 points (nine of them assists) in those four contests.
While Phillips saw his production decrease down the stretch, it’s important to note the Heat suffered a string of personnel losses leading to their 3-15-2 conclusion to the 2020–21 season. Phillips remained an electric offensive presence while his team struggled to remain competitve.
Phillips’ next steps
Phillips has little more to prove in the AHL. He has 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) in 68 games over his last two seasons and spent most of 2020–21 as Stockton’s primary offensive threat.
The Calgary Flames are notoriously shallow at the right wing position. Elias Lindholm has played there in the past but looks to be a perpetual centre for the Flames at this point. Andrew Mangiapane is terrific but can only fill one spot. Dillon Dube still has lots of room to grow and may eventually slot in down the middle. Then, there’s Brett Ritchie…
Calgary desperately needs somebody to make the jump and solidify the right side of its forward group. Phillips has earned a long look with the Flames. He’s a high-ceiling forward who has all the skill necessary to become a contributor in the NHL.
Phillips will likely be exposed in the Seattle expansion draft and needs a contract before next season. Assuming he goes unselected by the Kraken, Phillips should contend for a bottom-six spot with the Flames in 2021–22.