Incoming Nashville Predators general manager Barry Trotz made it clear his mission ahead of the 2023 NHL Draft was to find players who will get fans out of their seats.
Trotz believes he has exactly that in No. 15 overall pick Matthew Wood, a 6-foot-4, 196-pound power forward who the Predators are banking on to develop into an offensive force down the road.
“You see the size,” Trotz said. “He’s got a skillset, he’s a goal scorer and I love players with length.”
“He’s just growing into his frame,” Predators outgoing GM David Poile said. “I like to take a chance on somebody who’s 6-foot-4 and who’s probably going to be over 200 pounds when he gets done (growing). I have a good vision of how he should look in three or four years.”
Though he’s still very much a raw prospect, there’s plenty to like about Wood’s game.
Two years ago, he led the British Columbia Hockey League (a Canadian junior league) in both goals (45) and points (85) in just 46 games.
Wood reclassified to join the University of Connecticut a year early, and he led the Huskies in scoring with 11 goals and 34 points in 35 games as a 17-year-old freshman and the youngest player in the NCAA. Wood also scored seven goals and 13 points in seven games for Canada’s U18 team at the 2022-23 World Junior Championship.
“He’s a goal scorer and he’s got size,” Poile said. “And that’s something we really wanted. We were fortunate to get a player like Matthew at 15th overall who we rated very high heading into the draft.”
Wood joins arguably the most talented collection of forward prospects the Predators have ever had — a group that includes Joakim Kemell, Luke Evangelista, Phil Tomasino, Zachary L’Heureux, Fedor Svechkov, Egor Afanasyev and Reid Schaefer.
While that group has a strong blend of speed, skill, shooting and toughness, what it lacks Wood has in spades: size and scoring ability.
“I’d say I’m an offensive threat,” Wood stated. “I can score from anywhere. I can make plays, I can set guys up. I’d say I can score anytime I’m on the ice.”
Added Trotz: “If you look at the playoffs, finding ways to score, there’s guys that have really high skillsets and some guys — you look at a guy like Mark Stone, who wills himself to the net. There’s different types of players that you need. We got Matthew Wood, who’s a big body. We’ve got Kemell, who’s a shooter and he’s electric when he lines up and shoots the puck. So, we’re getting offense, guys that can score goals. … There’s a scoreboard for a reason; we want to put a few more up.”
While the Stone comparison is an apt one, Wood believes his game actually more closely resembles Buffalo Sabres forward Tage Thompson, a former UConn forward who’s 47 goals in 2022 ranked sixth in the NHL.
“He’s a big, skilled forward,” Wood remarked. “He scores goals and I love watching him and really look up to him.”
“With Matthew and the size and the hands and the shot, he’s going to be an extremely dangerous player for us,” Predators coach Andrew Brunette told 102.5 The Game. “I think he has a great combination of hockey sense and the ability to put the puck in the net. I’m excited to work with him, I love those kinds of players.”
Wood and Thompson are the only two players to be drafted in the first round in UConn history. Both players have similar size and skillsets, and like Thompson, Wood brings a high offensive IQ to the table with the added bonus of being a scoring threat on the power play.
While the offensive part of Wood’s game is built on a solid foundation, there’s still room for improvement in other areas, specifically his speed and ability to separate from defenders — two areas that he’s dedicated to improving.
“I’m trying to get better in every aspect, but I’m really focusing this summer on a bit of acceleration and a bit of strength as well,” he said.
Wood stated he’s staying in Nashville for Predators development camp, which begins on Saturday and runs through Thursday, July 6. As far as what his immediate future holds, Wood confirmed that he is heading back to UConn for the 2023 season and he will decide his next steps after the college season.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_
(Photo of Matthew Wood via Nashville Hockey Now)