In the past 12 months the Vancouver Canucks have traded a pair of star players in Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kesler in exchange for a pair of offensively gifted pivots best suited to playing a bottom-six role (and also two non-tender candidates, and a first round pick, and a third that became Derek Dorsett).
That pair of centers with offensive talent includes Shawn Matthias who has size and skill, but has never really put it all together. At 26-years-old he’s likely running out of time and upside.
What can we expect from Matthias this upcoming season? Read on past the jump.
Let’s start with the good: Matthias is a big bodied 6-foot-4, 225 pound forward versatile enough to lineup at center or on the wing. A left-handed shooter Matthias also possesses some one-shot goal scoring ability, which is something the Canucks have sorely lacked in recent seasons.
Over the past three seasons Matthias has scored goals at a good rate for an above average top-six forward and he’s managed to produce points at a credible top-six rate as well. There’s a good deal of skill there, even though at Matthias’ age he’s unlikely to suddenly hit “another level” and become a bona-fide star.
On the negative side of the ledger: Matthias’ two-way play is not even close to top-six quality and that was true in the Eastern Conference. In the rough and tumble Pacific, where even playoff bubble teams trot out monster two-way centerman like Martin Hanzal and Antoine Vermette, that could prove an issue.
We’ll give Matthias a pass for the brutal “with our without you” numbers he managed after he came to Vancouver, particularly because the team was locked firmly in a death spiral by that point. His performance over the past three years would indicate that he doesn’t exactly move the puck possession needle though, which means he’s probably poorly suited to playing a top-six role in the Western Conference.
If there’s some room for optimism in Matthias’ two-way game, I’d note that his performance on zone exits through the first half of last season (as tracked by @shutdownline) was very good for a centerman. Matthias managed a success rate on exit attempt touches that was north of 40 percent last season and had an exceedingly low turnover rate. He also seems to have borne a pretty significant burden on zone entries relative to his time on ice.
Still, a we concluded when the “Canucks are interested in Matthias” rumors surfaced last November, Matthias could be a useful depth piece, but counting on to be an everyday contributor in the top-nine is less than ideal.
Matthias turns 27 in February so he’s probably what he is at this point: a versatile bottom-six forward with some offensive value. He hasn’t proven to be a particularly capable two-way player in recent years with the Panthers and would probably be best off playing with a couple of above average defensive players, though there’s some reason for optimism based on his neutral zone performance last season.
That’s perhaps not what Canucks fans were hoping for when Matthias’ name was being mentioned in connection with a potential Luongo return, but it also isn’t nothing, particularly for a club that couldn’t buy a goal last season.
Matthias centered Vancouver’s ostensible third-line in the club’s final preseason tuneup on Saturday night, and with Linden Vey looking a bit out of position in the middle during training camp, could get an extended look in that spot as Brad Richardson and Bo Horvat convalesce.
If Matthias can provide some scoring punch from the bottom-six and play average defense, he’ll be a relatively useful depth piece. Just don’t expect more than that.