August 31, 2022

Pipeline: Top draft prospect Matthew Wood ready to take big jump

Matthew Wood had a tough decision to make before the start of this season. 

The top prospect for the 2023 NHL Draft could return to the British Columbia Hockey League with the Victoria Grizzlies, whom he led in scoring last season, or head off for a new adventure with the University of Connecticut.

“I like to sleep on things and make sure I feel the same way for at least a couple of days in a row. You know, there’s a lot of good and bad for both. They’re both great places,” Wood told Guy Flaming on The Pipeline Show. “Either way I’m gonna be fine in the long run, so it really doesn’t matter truly.”

He’s ultimately decided to join the UConn Huskies for the 2022-23 season.

Understandably so. There’s not much more the young Lethbridge, AB product could do in the BCHL if he returned. 

Last season, Wood led the entire league in points with 85 (45 goals, 40 assists) in 46 games, earning him the Brett Hull trophy as the circuit’s top scorer. His stellar season also earned him the Bruce Allison Memorial Trophy as BCHL Rookie of the year. 

Wood’s 1.85 points-per-game is the highest by a 16-year-old in the past 20 years, ahead of such noteworthy players like Alex Newhook (1.47), Kyle Turris (1.26), and Kent Johnson (0.81). 

But he wouldn’t take all the credit for his personal success.

He called it a team effort that helped him accrue those totals and awards.

“We had a great season. Obviously we had a great team,” he told Flaming. “A lot of great players on our team and everyone really wanted to help everyone get better and help everyone improve. And everyone wanted to win.”

There were expectations he had for himself and he wanted to exceed them. 

“I worked really hard all summer,” Wood said. “I felt there was no one in the league that could do what I could do. And I just wanted to go out there and prove it every night. I felt like I did a good job throughout the year staying consistent.”

The hard word paid off and it earned him an invitation to the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August, where he won gold with Canada. 

Wood, who also represented Canada at the 2022 IIHF World Under-18 Championship earlier in the spring, registered an impressive five points (two goals, three assists) in five games.

“It was a really amazing experience. You get to play with all the best players from Canada,” Wood said. “All the best players in the world for the draft. And see what everyone is like and build just some really nice friendships and obviously an amazing experience on the ice.

“I thought I played pretty good. I mean our team won, so there’s not really much else you can complain about. Obviously that’s the main goal,” Wood said. “Just having fun, that’s a big part of hockey. I enjoyed my time and I had fun so it was a great experience.”

Wood will take that talent — he likens his game to Evgeni Malkin and Mikko Rantanen — to the collegiate level. 

“I mean my favorite player my whole life has been Evgeni Malkin,” the 6-foot-3, 194-pound forward said. “He’s big. He’s a really great player. He’s a great passer and he can score. I always like to think of myself as kind of like him.

“Another guy that I like to think that I’m like is Mikko Rantanen. He’s big, skilled and he can really shoot. Those are the two guys that I really look to and take a lot from their game. They’re fun to watch.”

Those elements will help the now 17-year-old in his jump against older, more experienced opposition. 

So too will a few more that he feels helps his game excel. 

And, eventually, show his decision to make the jump from the BCHL to the NCAA at such a young age is the right one.

“I’d like to think I’m responsible on the defensive side of the puck. I definitely don’t take that aspect of the game lightly,” he said. “I would say if you were gonna say one skill of mine that stands out, it would be my shot, but I have a lot of other aspects that if you really watch my game wouldn’t stand out as well.”

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