Shawn Matthias: Flying under the radar

Things have been awfully retrospective around these parts of late. From discerning Markus Naslund’s credentials as a potential hall of fame inductee to revisiting the Ryan Kesler trade. It comes with the territory though; with it being mid-September, we’re left to writhe our hands waiting for hockey to be played on our television sets once again.

But no matter how many times we’ve revisited some of the formative moves of this roster in the recent past, one guy is seemingly always overlooked — that’d be Radim Vrbata Ryan Miller Linden Vey Derek Dorsett Nick Bonino Luca Sbisa Shawn Matthias!

This is a player that should be of considerable interest to Canucks fans considering the seismic gap down the middle that lies in wait on the depth chart once you get past ‘Sedin, Henrik’. While Nick Bonino has promptly been pigeonholed for a spot there, and people are (justly) excited about the potential of a Linden Vey, Matthias has managed to fly under the radar this summer with everything else that has happened around him.

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Not anymore.

Pedigree and Past Performance

Despite the fact that Matthias has been in the league for 7 years now, I still don’t think people have a very firm grasp of what he is at this point. Coming into the league as a former draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings – as Matthias was in the 2nd round of the ’06 draft – carries with it some gravitas; after all, they have somewhat of a knack for this here drafting thing.

Looking at Matthias play, it’s quickly apparent that he possesses some of the tools general managers drool over. Things like size, speed, ‘sandpaper’ and defensive acumen always rear their heads when examining scouting reports on Matthias. It’s something that Panther Parkway tackled, just less than a year before he was traded to Vancouver:

“The characteristics that likely attracted the Detroit brass were his size, skating ability, and his tenacious forechecking. He was also described as a hard-worker. All attributes that would make most any player being looked at as a potential middle six forward. The negatives in the report however were that he didn’t always play to his size, and that he may not have the softest hands around. Still, Matthias was viewed as a solid prospect in the Red Wings organization, and solid enough to be taken in the second round. Detroit has a history of finding “diamonds in the rough” and they obviously felt that Matthias had the potential to be another gem.”

“Matthias spent three seasons with Bellville, and each one was better than his last; when the Florida Panthers were in the process of trading forward Todd Bertuzzi, then general manager Jacques Martin wanted Matthias as part of the deal, which also included two conditional draft picks. It was believed that eventually Matthias could be a second line center with Florida as long as his development continued.  After being acquired Matthias spend time between his Belleville team, the Roschester Americans and the Florida Panthers before finally sticking to the roster for a full season in 2011-2011. Much of his ice time prior to this past season was spent on the bottom two lines, and killing penalties as his rugged style of play warranted him those opportunities while he continued to develop his game, which needed some consistency.”

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Some of these oft-mentioned inconsistencies in Matthias’ game show themselves when looking at his boxcar stats. From junior to the pros, there aren’t many exceedingly productive seasons bunched in twos. With that being said, context is king; his linemates and ice-time during that time surely muddy the waters. 

On “Breakout” Seasons

It really is hard to paint an accurate picture of any one player’s ability based on anomalous “breakout” campaigns. More often than not they are almost entirely percentage driven, and harbored in large part by favorable conditions. See: Bonino, Nick.

One of the most encouraging aspects to Shawn Matthias’ very own little breakout campaign – which came back in the lockout shortened 2012/13 season with the Florida Panthers – was how few of these harbingers of regression it entailed. Both his individual and on-ice shooting percentages were just a little bit northward of where one would expect them for Matthias based on previous campaigns, but he still did so with a PDO under the 100-water mark.

A brief glance at his WOWY’s from that campaign is also rather encouraging. Admittedly, it’s difficult to refrain from looking at who he shared the ice with most frequently in that campaign and not giggle at least a little bit. [If you’re not one for clicking in-article links: it’s Jacob Markstrom]. 

The list of forwards hopping over the boards with Matthias on a regular basis weren’t exactly world-beaters, by any stretch of the imagination. Unless of course you share bloodlines with either Jack Skille and Scottie Upshall. If not, try to keep that in mind when analyzing Matthias’ past. He managed to accomplish quite a lot, with very little in the way of accompanying resources during his time in Florida.

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What’s most encouraging about it all is that Matthias did so playing some half-way decent competition, in that he certainly wasn’t sheltered by any means.

During that time there were fewer points than say, one of the guys ahead of him on the depth chart down the middle, but as I’ve outlined, Matthias had a lot less going for him in the way of external factors. Both had ignominious stretches of decent, if unspectacular, play throughout their careers. Both have only one noteworthy campaign under their respective belts. One was propped up by good fortune, the other less so.

Something I wanted to do with Matthias’ numbers from the ’12-’13 season was to see what we could reasonably expect him to have achieved over a full 82-game season. What I found was that he was on pace to register ~24 goals. 22 of those expected goals would’ve come at even strength, which is hardly something to scoff at in today’s NHL.

Need help understanding those fancy stats (PDO, WOWY) above, this will help

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Where He Fits

When I went into the early stages of putting this article together, I did so with little expectation in the way of validating data. After doing some digging, I liked what I saw. 

The next step is to factor in his surroundings, and attempt to gauge where he fits into the hierarchy. To do so we need to compare him to the competition around him. How does he compare to Nick Bonino, for example?

In essence, they are two players with similar pasts. Matthias might be a little more on the “toolsy” end of the spectrum, and as such better equipped to handle a tougher slate of competition. But from a purely production-based perspective, it’s hard to say he’s more deserving of a look up near the top of the lineup than Bonino. Being entirely honest, but are likely better fits in a competitive team’s bottom-6 than anywhere else if they’re being asked to play down the middle.

And that’s where things get interesting. With the likes of Bonino, Vey, Richardson, Horvat, and Matthias all vying for spots down the middle, the latter’s best bet on this incarnation of the Canucks may very well be moving over to the wing. He possesses the speed, size, defensive ability and industrious nature as a player to make that move. It’s also something we saw him do when he came over after the trade last season, and something he has been asked to do early on in camp.

Say what you will about Ryan Kesler’s character, there’s probably all sorts of merit to the negative things that’ve been said about him following his departure. But there’s no denying that his presence on the team provided assurance that the top-six was always solidified down the middle. That’s something, I hear, is important in the Pacific Division these days.

The slack will have to be picked up largely by committee, that’s readily apparent. What’s yet to be determined is just how that committee will be proportioned, and how responsibilities will be divvied out. All of those aforementioned other names in the mix are hardly nailed down as unquestioned solutions, and there’s surely opportunity to be had there for those that show well for themselves in the next handful of weeks. As a result, how Matthias acquits himself will bear watching.

  • Fred-65

    I expect him to play on the fourth line wing this year and then move up next year. I think Burrows, Hansen and Higgins are not that long for this team, 1 or 2 years and the hope is that guys like Matthias and Jensen will fill the holes. I like the way management is moving. Vrbata, 2 years and out, long enough for Jensen to really develop on right wing. Burrows, a couple of years, for Shinkaruk to develop. Higgins and Hansen, gone in 2 years, replaced by Horvat, Vey moves to wing and maybe by Gaunce.

  • Fred-65

    In terms of goals I’m not sure whose career season was more percentage-driven.

    Bonino sh% in career year: 13.8%. Career average: 11.1%. 2.7% higher than career average.

    Matthias sh% in career year: 13.2%. Career average: 9.5%
    3.7% higher than career average.

    Also worth noting that Bonino had significant PP time so, all else equal, we should expect his sh% to be a bit higher.

    I don’t really think his WOWY’s were impressive. He was a bit better than Skille and Upshall (congrats) but he served as an absolute anchor to Brian Campbell — the dmen who he played most with.
    He also dragged Huberdeau and Mueller down when he played with them.

    The idea of moving him to the wing is an intriguing one though and I hope he gets a shot there if Vey can take the 3C spot.

  • andyg

    The Wings may draft well, but their prospects excel in the Bigs because the team probably develops them better than most clubs do with their young guys.

    For example, if the Wings knew Nyquist (4th rounder) would become a 30-goal guy, they would not have waited that long to take him. Mostly player development I think.

    If you take Mathias out of the Wings’ development program and drop him into the Panther’s program, that lowers his ceiling…no question for me anyway.

    He’s too old for the Canucks to reboot him, and the team’s player development is OK at best.

    Think his upside is 15-goal, grinding winger. I’d love to be way wrong on him, but I don’t see 20-25 goals from the guy.