The offseason means the end of Wild games, but for the players, the work is never done. With Exit Interviews, Hockey Wilderness takes each player and reviews their season, highlighting what we liked seeing from them over the year, and pointing out what can be improved to take the next step.
Heck of an interesting rookie season, Matt.
We weren't sure if you were going to make it out of training camp, but you definitely earned the spot with how you looked in the pre-season. But when you started out the season, you stopped looking as good. There were flashes, sure, and you certainly weren't but you weren't playing to your potential.
Thankfully, you managed to work that out in Iowa. When you came back, it was with a vengeance. Not only were you neck-and-neck with Jared Spurgeon in terms of offensive production, but your all-around game looked quite different. You made better decisions, your defense seemed better, and you did all that without sacrificing what we drafted you for, your speed and skills.
There were people amongst our fanbase at the beginning of this season who looked at guys like Derrick Pouliot, Jacob Trouba, and Olli Maata and wished the Wild hadn't passed on them to take you in the 2012 draft. And while those players are good, you've quieted them down and made a name for yourself with your play down the stretch. Now it's time to take the next step and silence them completely.
Expectations For Next Year
You need to prepare as if you're a Top-4 defenseman, even if you start training camp on the third pairing (which is likely how it'll be, if the roster stays the same). As you saw first-hand this year, anything can happen. Just this season, we had the mumps outbreak, Marco Scandella and Ryan Suter getting suspensions, Jared Spurgeon suffering a concussion. And this isn't just exclusive to last season (well, except for the mumps), this happens every year. No team has their Top-4 defensemen playing 82 games.
Worst-case scenario for your minutes, you're going to see Top-4 action for at least a good stretch or two this season, and it's safe to assume that even on the third-pairing we'll still want you on the ice often. Especially on that power play. We definitely want to see you on that power play.
1. Decision-Making- You improved by leaps and bounds in this area once you came back from the Baby Wild, but this needs to keep improving for you to fulfill your potential. You're not in Red Deer anymore. You're not in Iowa anymore. You don't have to do everything yourself, and you don't have to hit a home run every time you hit the ice. By all means, use your skills, but if the opportunity isn't there, or the risk heavily outweighs the reward, there's no shame in the safe play.
2. Defense- When you were drafted, one of your most highly-touted qualities was your highlight-reel hits. We haven't seen much of those this season, which is fine, as we'd like to see you avoid huge collisions if we can help it. What we'd rather have you do is watch Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin- those guys are masters at taking away ice from opponents with their positioning. You have the speed to really take advantage of learning a thing or two from them, and that should help you improve your defensive game.
3. Power-Play Quarterbacking- We've loved just about everything that you've done on the power play this season. One thing to maybe look at, however, is working with your teammates on shot-tipping. If guys like Charlie Coyle, Thomas Vanek, or Nino Niederreiter can learn how to adjust to the way the puck comes off your stick, it'll make your #SillyHard shot all the more dangerous.