Over the weekend, before he signed his entry-level contract, Nashville prospect Jack Matier faced what will be his toughest competition of the 2021-22 OHL season: Shane Wright.
Skating on the Ottawa 67s’ top pair, Matier faced off against the likely first-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft in two games against the Kingston Frontenacs. I went shift by shift to break down what went well and what can be improved for the 2021 fourth-round pick.
I won’t focus as much on Wright below, so here’s what you need to know: he’s the best player in the OHL — plain and simple. He scored 66 points in his first 58 games in 2019-20 and can terrorize defenders with an unmatched combination of puck skills, elite skating, on-ice awareness, and a lethal shot. He’s a persistent and confident player who rarely takes a shift off and never refrains from hunting down the puck anywhere on the ice.
On the other hand, Matier is less of a certainty. Selected 124th overall this summer, the Ottawa defender stands out with his 6’4” frame, his puck retrieval skills, and decent pace. He’s physical and can make life difficult for forwards when he times his pivots and closes his gaps well. He lost a significant chunk of development time due to COVID-19, so this second year in the OHL will provide a big clue as to the kind of player he can become.
In the first game of the weekend series, Kingston took advantage of line matching and mostly kept Shane Wright (#51, white) away from Matier (#27, red), but I still picked out several shifts to review. In the clip above, Wright enters the offensive zone as F2 in a tight puck-support position relative to the puck carrier. Matier reads the zone entry well, doesn’t back down from his forward strides prior to transition, and meets #10 right at the blue line with a wide frame, forcing an errant pass away from Wright and successfully breaking up the play.
For Kingston’s third goal, Wright catalyzed the play while half a rink away from it. As he comes around the net, look how easily he scans the ice, paralyzing the 67s in the neutral zone. When reading this stretch pass, Jack Matier has two options: open his gap and try keeping the opposing forward in front of him or pinch at the point of pass reception. Ultimately, he chooses the latter, and Wright is able to exploit that pinch—with an unbelievable pass—despite Matier being on the inside of #19. The Frontenacs’ forward wins that puck battle, and Matier can’t pivot in time to keep the play in front of him.
This next clip highlights just a small example of how good Shane Wright is at turning play up the ice quickly. But despite his speed with #19 through the neutral zone, Matier positions himself well, forcing the puck carrier to the outside, checking his stick on Wright’s, forcing a pass, and taking #51 out of the unsuccessful play.
Against this odd-man rush, Matier is less successful. Shane Wright turns a neutral-zone turnover into a 3-on-2 rush quickly, and the 67s’ defender is initially positioned well. But as Wright waits out the other Ottawa defender, Kingston’s #27 dives straight to the net and gets a step on Matier, who times his pivot step poorly. On this goal, Ottawa’s #10 should be picking up F3 more aggressively, but if Matier is a step quicker, he could likely disrupt that cross-crease pass with his long reach.
This shift is a simple one, but it highlights a strength of Matier’s game: his physicality. As Kingston enters the zone, he squeezes the space along the wall and disrupts a clean entry. As his teammate battles for the puck in the corner, Matier does a good job of mirroring Shane Wright (who’s also there to provide puck support) and engages him physically. Also, take note of Matier’s position as the puck works its way up the wall and out of the zone; He controls the space above the dots and doesn’t give any room for the Frontenacs to potentially get to the net.
Conversely, Shane Wright continued to expose Ottawa’s communication breakdowns and defensive lapses. Here, Matier would be right to chase the play below the goal line as two Kingston forwards battle down there, but, #10 heads in deep to engage Kingston’s #8. This leaves Wright completely alone in front of the net while three players in white are below the line and a fourth is staring at the puck. Matier does block the initial pass to the slot, but he never once rotates his head to keep eyes on Shane Wright, who doesn’t need much time or space to bury a goal.
Later in the game, Matier shows again how helpful his physical play can be. He ties up Kingston’s #19 as the puck gets dumped in and helps tie up the play long enough for Ottawa to recover and completely mitigate any scoring threat from Shane Wright.
Finally, on the penalty kill, Matier learns an important lesson about next year’s top prospect. Wright demonstrates how masterfully he can control the puck while moving at top speed here, and while I like how much Matier closes this gap, he’s not going to beat Wright (with a full head of steam) using accelerating crossover steps. To respect that speed, Matier will need to build in time for pivots against top players like Wright and use his stick to be more disruptive.
I don’t want to draw any major conclusions from these first two games for several reasons: It’s been so long since Matier has seen competitive minutes like this; it’s early in the year; and Shane Wright is an elite prospect. There were some good moments and decisions and some poor ones, as you could probably expect. As Ottawa faces Kingston several more times this season, I am intrigued to watch how Matier adjusts defensively to the Frontenacs’ top line and how that affects his play against weaker opponents and his development towards NHL hockey.