Photo Credit: Nick Pettigrew / Moose Jaw Warriors
Scouting Report written by Austin Garrett
Thirty one games into his season, Denton Mateychuk currently leads all draft eligible defensemen in the WHL in points and points per game. He currently sits second in the league overall in points for defensemen.
When digging into his production even further he blows you away. Mateychuk boasts a staggering 71.4% of his total production on primary points. As if that’s not already impressive: 16 of his 19 even strength points are primary points. In Moose Jaw’s 31 games played: Mateychuk has an overall involvement percentage just south of 29%, which is broken down as an even-strength involvement percentage of 27.9%, a 30.8% on the PP, and 33.3% shorthanded. In layman’s terms: most defensemen have a much larger share of their points on the power play and those are usually of the secondary assist variety.
In a draft that seems to be chocked full of offensive-leaning defensemen: Mateychuk deserves to be in the conversation as one of the best offensive generators coming from the backend in 2022 given his production and being one of the younger defenders in the draft.
D.O.B – July 12, 2004
Nationality – Canada
Draft Eligibility – 2022
Weight –187 lbs
Handedness – Left
Mateychuk’s Style of Play
When putting on the tape it’s not hard to see why his involvement and work rate is so high. He is involved in everything Moose Jaw is trying to do when driving play in the neutral and offensive zone. He’s hyper-aggressive from the backend, often jumping in to join a rush at the first signs the puck is moving into the offensive zone, and is oftentimes the player carrying in the puck for the controlled entry. In two games tracked he was involved in nearly 39% of all transitions when he was on the ice, and if the puck is on his stick leaving the defensive zone it’s almost a guarantee he will be directly involved in the offensive zone entry. If I were to sum Mateychuk’s game up in a clip it would be this:
The hallmarks of Mateychuk’s offensive game are his hyper aggressive nature, passing vision and creativity, and ability to work himself off-the-puck into dangerous areas of the ice. He is able to identify his forwards quickly and then jump into the play to make himself an option to receive a pass for a controlled entry. Oftentimes he’s continuing to push play into the dangerous areas of the ice himself to generate a wrist shot or passing lane to find a teammate for a scoring chance.
If one were to make a highlight video of Mateychuk it would almost certainly be riddled with “how did he even see that guy!?!?” passes. His passing vision and creativity is at an elite level, especially in his controlled entries and exits. He is able to identify passing lanes at an elite level, and is able to manipulate defenders with his skill to open up passing lanes himself.
However, a lot Mateychuk’s game is driven from him curling in from the point into the center ice, medium-danger area and releasing a wrist shot that creates a rebound that is banged home from his forwards. His even-strength passes to medium-high danger areas aren’t of a significant volume, however he generates a lot of his offense for himself in those areas.
If Mateychuk shoots from the point it is most often going to be a low wrist shot that he’s looking to get through on net. He rarely takes slap shots from the point, and doesn’t currently possess a shot that will beat goalies clean from distance. However, he utilizes space exceptionally well. He moves into the dangerous parts of the ice and from those areas his shot has proven to be effective.
Playing on his off-hand side for all of my viewings of him: he is one of the best in North America at controlling play at the offensive blue line. He’s both hyper-intelligent and aggressive in his pinching efforts and seeing outlet passes early in the process to be able to break up the pass in the offensive zone. Rarely does he engage in low-percentage pinching efforts that results in odd-man rushes going the other way. He patrols the offensive zone from just above the faceoff circle looking to move into a dangerous area if and when his forwards are able to obtain possession below the goal line.
There are two concerns with Mateychuk with his offensive game. The first being that he’s always looking to attack vertical, and oftentimes, at a break-neck pace. He’ll ignore the safe, conservative outlet to try a more difficult pass that moves the puck into or out of the zone. For example: more than once I’ve seen him ignore his defensive partner to reset a play and instead attempt the Dwayne Robertson alley-oop pass from the Mighty Ducks movies. This results in unnecessary turnovers and failed zone transitions. While he is, in my estimation, the most dangerous offensive player on the ice for Moose Jaw; I’d like to see him defer (or at least Gretzky-turn and reset) when the vertical options aren’t available. Additionally, Mateychuk could use more speed manipulation in his own transitional carry-in/out efforts to diversify his attacking style. While he has the ability to utilize crossovers and lateral puck maneuvering skills; he prefers to play a fast-paced, north/south type of carry-in/out strategy.
The biggest concern I have for projecting his offense to higher levels will be his puck handling. While he is more than capable of making the highlight reel with his puck skill; Mateychuk does have a pension for a bad touch on a pass, or the unforced turnover when carrying the puck. Given that so much of his game in the WHL is predicated upon his puck-carrying ability and pace; I’d like to see more control over the course of the season if I were to safely project his offensive game to the next level.
Mateychuk is just simply not a passive player. In the neutral zone he looks to break up passes and stop transitions before they even get to the defensive blue line. His intelligence in reading passing plays allows him to patrol the neutral zone from behind center ice to move up and defend opposing rushes.
His gap control on defensive blue line rushes can be inconsistent, but he’s still allowing controlled entries into the defensive zone at a very good percentage through two games tracked. Most of the uncontrolled defensive zone entries I’ve seen him deny are because he’s been aggressive with his gap right above the blue line, but he can give too much space and not dictate opposing forwards to the boards which has led to some forwards being able to penetrate medium-danger areas to get a shot off on the rush against him.
In the defensive zone he is able to play passing lanes and able to separate players from the puck, albeit he is still undersized to do so at a highly efficient level physically and his stick checking can get lazy. In front of the net his size can be limited in clearing players out of dangerous areas, but he is active in tying up sticks and moderately effective in preventing high-danger chances.
His most limiting defensive trait is his backwards mobility and the oft-times he tries to stick check instead of moving his feet to remove a player from the puck. He can get beat by shifty, fast-paced forwards on a tight gap too often for an undersized defensemen, and he can be over-reliant on a stick check that leads to highlight reel goals against.
In the 2022 NHL draft class there isn’t a player I enjoy watching more on a nightly basis than Denton Mateychuk. He is a unicorn as a defender. There isn’t an archetype that he really fits into, which makes him a polarizing player to categorize and rank.
He’s not a player that is going to fit into a system that wants their defensemen to be passive in transition by passing the puck up to the forwards, nor a system that doesn’t want their defensemen to activate from the blue line in the offensive zone. He is at his best when the puck is on his stick, driving transitional play, and having the offense flow through him. Even if his puck handling skill drives down the effectiveness of his rush offense; his intelligence, passing ability, off-puck awareness and aggressiveness will still make him an effective offensive defensemen.
If his mobility is able to reach a level that isn’t too far off from where he is now: an aggressive projection for Mateychuk would be an elite offensive catalyst from the backend with the ability to mitigate defensive zone transitions which would erase concerns about his size. Conservatively, he projects as an aggressive, high-event style defensemen who you bet will create more chances than he’ll give up. I, personally, lean to his highest ceiling due to his consistent impact on the offensive end of the ice in my viewings, but the concerns are valid.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Austin Garrett. If you would like to follow Austin on Twitter, his handle is @BMaster716.
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