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Is Matthew Wood The Next Tage Thompson? UConn’s Cavanaugh Likes His Odds

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Matthew Wood
Photo of Kalan Lind, left, Tanner Molendyk, center, and Matthew Wood by John Russell/Nashville Predators

When the Nashville Predators were on the clock with the 15th overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, general manager Barry Trotz was likely thinking the exact same thing that University of Connecticut head coach Mike Cavanaugh was: Matthew Wood very well could be the next Tage Thompson.

The 6-foot-4, 196-pound forward led the Huskies with 34 points in 35 games, ranking third on the team in goals (11) and showcasing the kind of high-upside scoring prowess that’s reminiscent of Thompson, another former Husky.

The 26th overall pick of the 2016 draft by the St. Louis Blues, Thompson was traded shortly after to the Buffalo Sabres, where he’s developed into one of the top scoring threats in the NHL. Thompson, who’s 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, scored 38 goals and 68 points two seasons ago, and followed it up with a 47-goal, 94-point season last year.

Though he flew under-the-radar during his draft year, Cavanaugh knew Thompson had the potential to be a top-line scorer in the NHL, and he recently divulged during an appearance on “The Sick Podcast,” hosted by Boston Hockey Now’s Jimmy Murphy and former “NHL on NBC” broadcaster Pierre McGuire, that he believes Wood possesses that same elite potential.

“(Thompson) led the country in power-play goals his freshman year here, just banging one-timers,” Cavanaugh said. “And Matthew Wood has a very similar skillset to Tage, which is kind of unique.”

Wood has followed up a strong freshman season at UConn with a solid effort as a sophomore through 21 games this year. He’s second on the team in both goals (8) and points (14), and he leads the Huskies in shots (72) and game-winning goals (2).

He also showed off his scoring touch at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship, tying for the second-most goals (2) and third-most points (4) on Team Canada through five games despite ranking last among skaters in ice time (8:15 per game).

Though Wood’s point production has fallen off a bit from last season (0.97 in 2022, 0.66 in 2023), Cavanaugh isn’t worried for two reasons — he’s still filling out his frame just two-and-a-half weeks away from turning 19, and his goal production has actually slightly increased (0.31 in 2022, 0.33 in 2023).

“He’s still the youngest kid on our team as a sophomore,” Cavanaugh stated. “I don’t think some people understand…like, Brady Tkachuk had eight goals as a freshman, and I think he had [22] the next year in the National Hockey League [after being drafted by the Ottawa Senators]. It’s hard to score in college hockey.”

It’s clear that Cavanaugh thinks highly of his prized pupil, and the Thompson comparison is a just one.

But on draft night, Trotz actually equated Wood to another top scoring forward — Vegas Golden Knights winger Mark Stone, who’s tied for 19th in the NHL with 46 points through 45 games and has seven 20-goal seasons and six 60-point seasons.

Sure, Thompson and Stone are both lofty comparisons to live up to, but Wood’s booming shot was enough to convince Trotz his gamble was worth the risk.

“I think (Matthew Wood) is still growing and maturing with his game, but the things that he has that you can’t teach are the shot and the IQ,” Cavanaugh added. “He is such a smart player, and I think that’s what, when he finally fills out and becomes a man, those are the things that will propel him to be a great NHL hockey player.”

Follow Michael Gallagher on X/Twitter @MGsports_

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