“I think he’s going to be a defenceman who shifts the paradigm of the position,” an Eastern Conference team’s scout told the Elite Prospects Rinkside team regarding Denton Mateychuk, who was highlighted in their article outlining the most divisive prospects in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Meanwhile, a Western Conference scout is quoted in the same article, and his take on Mateychuk was much less optimistic: “Plays a fun style, but he’s small, he’s not that fast, and he can’t defend the rush. Gets hemmed in and runs around. We’re not that interested.”
In other words, he plays such a unique game, that he could change the way defending is perceived at the NHL level. But he also has some weaknesses that need addressing.
Let’s break down what makes Mateychuk so unique, and whether the Western Conference scout is on to something when it comes to the left-handed blue-liner’s projectability.
Birthplace: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Date of birth: July 12, 2004
Weight: 194 lbs.
Team: Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Mateychuk’s numbers as a draft-eligible prospect in the WHL are impressive: he scored 13 goals and added 51 assists for 64 points in 65 games, as well as 10 points in 10 playoff matches. His aggressive offensive mindset was the biggest reason for his production at that level; ‘defenceman’ is just a title to him.
Don't let the his detractors fool you. Denton Mateychuk is one of the #2022NHLDraft's best blueliners.— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) June 30, 2022
And as @MitchLBrown argues in his latest Film Room™️ instalment, activation and playmaking could make him the draft's best defenceman period.
: https://t.co/M4gTrLf6tw pic.twitter.com/4hPqg3GcdL
He is constantly looking for opportunities to explore the offensive zone and showcase his puck skills, often ending up below the faceoff dots as a result. It always seems to have a purpose, however, and he almost never renders himself a liability as a consequence of his incursions. The combination of confidence, skill, and awareness that Mateychuk displays on a consistent basis is what leads to analytical results like these:
The passing data is what is most telling about the way Mateychuk plays hockey. He constantly finds ways to connect with teammates in dangerous ice for shots. His vision and playmaking arsenal are both tremendous, which helps him find and exploit the slightest of seams and slip passes through sticks and bodies with accuracy. Combine that with his offensive aggression, and you have a defenceman who is very often creating chances from the bottom half of the offensive zone.
On top of that, he is in the top percentile of tracked skaters for controlled zone entries per 60 minutes, meaning that he heavily favours passes and carries over dump-ins to generate offensive zone time, and performs those passes and carries often with a tantalizing amount of success.
This adds to the uniqueness of his profile, as his preference and consistency when it comes to controlled entries means he is extending possession time for his team and helping it set up shop in the offensive zone, rather than creating 50/50 battles for his teammates to try to win. The second clip in this next compilation exemplifies that.
Denton Mateychuk (#5) clips from Nov 6.— Mitchell Brown (@MitchLBrown) November 19, 2021
As usual, activates into every play when not leading them. Accelerates out of passes to the inside of defenders to get open. Changes pace, delays for options. Deceives incoming pressure. Executes as both shooter and passer.#2022NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/KbI8PnpdOh
The other outstanding element of Mateychuk’s analytical profile, which doesn’t really match what the aforementioned Western Conference scout had to say about him, is the defensive data. Specifically, his rate of defensive plays per chance against, which is more than decent for a prospect who supposedly gets hemmed in his own zone.
Mateychuk is constantly running around. He’s the textbook definition of a rover. But at the end of the day, when comparing his defensive plays with the amount of scoring chances against that happen with him on the ice, he is among the top of his class. And this doesn’t take into consideration his ability to prevent the puck from getting into his own zone to start with.
Denton Mateychuk (#5 in white) clips from October 2nd. The first clip sums his game well: Puck to the inside, join the rush, set up a teammate, kill a play in the NZ, repeat. Lots of details: Body positioning, in-motion passes, deception. #2022NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/B3QQjjJpp2— Mitchell Brown (@MitchLBrown) October 16, 2021
He might be listed as 5’11”, but Mateychuk looks a tad shorter than that. His lower stance doesn’t help in that regard. His speed and acceleration aren’t blinding, but he carries himself up and down the ice with pace, fluidity, and purpose. He bounces off checks decently, and his stocky, 194-pound build makes him an adept puck-protector.
He shields the puck well, using his hands and knees to block off and push opposing sticks away when faced with pressure. Learning to initiate contact and use his stockiness to strike first will be his next important lesson.
Elite Prospects: #8
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #24
Craig Button (TSN): #24
NHL Central Scouting: #14 (North American skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #13
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #13
His shot isn’t otherworldly, but his incursions into the offensive zone often land him in decent enough spots to fire it home, and even from the point he’s been able to find twine with a technically refined wrister.
Denton Mateychuk out there chucking darts.— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) April 17, 2022
Make it 13 goals and 64 points in 65 WHL games - good for a share of the lead among draft-eligible defenders pic.twitter.com/UxmhVCcTh7
He is likely the best transitional defenceman in his class, with the mindset of a fourth forward. The rate and efficiency with which he carries pucks out of his zone and into the opponent’s, paired with his puck skills, vision, awareness, confidence, and offensive aggression, make him a tremendously unique prospect with game-changing potential.
On the flip side, he won’t be able to do everything he does right now at the NHL level. There are needlessly difficult plays that he attempts when in the presence of easier options, and he can’t just start playing as the first forward on the forecheck. No NHL coach is going to like that. He needs some simplifying, though how much simplifying can be done while retaining what makes him so unique is the question.
I'll have to double check my notes but...— Joel Henderson (@dathockeydoe) May 19, 2022
Denton Mateychuk is a defenseman.... correct? pic.twitter.com/Fi2SgN1fnc
Teams might want to skip him over in favour of a larger defenceman, or one who is more stable in his playing style and who they can compare to current NHLers, but Mateychuk’s game fits with the direction that the NHL has taken over the last few years. Given that the TSN lists are the most accurate when looking for likely outcomes for prospects on draft day, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mateychuk still on the board in the 20s.
If that is the case, the Habs would have the opportunity to add a blue-liner with top-pair potential near the end of the first round. A trade-up scenario could be an option, but there’s also a chance that by the Calgary pick at 26th overall Mateychuk’s name is still up there. If he is, there aren’t many prospects with his upside, and the Habs could take a swing for the fences and land a game-changer.