Matthew Phillips may be here, but is he here to stay?
The hometown kid Matthew Phillips has finally been given the nod by Calgary Flames management. While that’s all fine and dandy, there remains a much bigger question: is here he to stay?
We’re not saying Christmas miracles are a tangible concept by any stretch of the imagination. But recent news surrounding the Calgary Flames organization is starting to make us believers.
Either that or the C of Red has been on Santa’s really, really, really nice list this year.
Why the sudden revelation you ask? Well, Milan Lucic was recently made a healthy scratch, Kevin Rooney has been put on waivers and the AHL’s Player of the Month for November, Matthew Phillips, has been called up by the Flames, at long last. The announcement came on Dec. 8, just hours before the club would jet away to Columbus, the new home of former Flame Johnny Gaudreau, to start a three-game, Eastern Conference road trip.
#Flames General Manager Brad Treliving has announced the recall of forward Matthew Phillips from the @AHLWranglers.
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) December 8, 2022
The Calgary Flames have been dealing with a case of the ‘scoring scaries’ for a considerable chunk of the season and head coach Darryl Sutter has experimented with almost every line combination imaginable. Yet nothing seems to be working. Well, nothing except the assistance already provided by former call-ups from the Calgary Wranglers.
Yes, we are talking about Slovakia-born Adam Ruzicka, who’s made quite a name for himself in recent weeks. Ruzicka, who started the season as a healthy scratch, is paving the way for other prospects and call-ups waiting in the wings for their big break. In just 18 games played, Ruzicka brags a stat line of six goals and 10 assists and a team-leading 0.88 goals per game.
At just 23 years old, Ruzicka is living proof that there are benefits to giving younger talent ample opportunity in the big league. This has hopefully convinced Darryl Sutter and the rest of the Flames coaching staff to give Matthew Phillips, who made his season debut on Dec. 10 against the Maple Leafs, a long-awaited test run.
In said debut, Matthew Phillips found himself wedged between Ruzicka and veteran Mikael Backlund on the third line. He logged 9:21 on the ice plus a fistful of time on a power play unit. The best part is that he didn’t look out of place whatsoever and, despite being held off the scoresheet, he still managed to show strong signs of promise offensively against Toronto. No small feat.
Matthew Phillips’ season debut:
– Led Flames with an 84.04 5v5 xGF%
– 1 of 5 Flames with multiple scoring chances
– Flames outscored Leafs 1–0 with him on the ice
He’s earned more games. #Flames
— Mike Gould (@miketgould) December 11, 2022
In reality, is Phillips expected to be the Messiah for this club, leading the Flames to the promised land? Probably not, but the Flames are looking for a production bump and there is no harm in giving the Calgary kid a shot.
However, if Phillips is to find continued success in the NHL, the Calgary Flames need to consider his strengths instead of slotting him wherever there is open space in the lineup. All the while, he needs consistent starts with the club.
Unlike Adam Ruzicka, who is a 6’4″, 215 Ibs boulder that is capable of finding success on any line, Matthew Phillips is a Johnny Gaudreau-sized pebble in comparison. Phillips is a crafty, deftly quick forward capable of finding the back of the net on a nightly basis. And in all honesty, has the potential to be the most viable replacement for Gaudreau.
With that being said, the Calgary Flames never expected Johnny Gaudreau to flourish in a bottom-six role. Nor should they demand the same out of Phillips. If you take this into consideration, plus factor in the lack of scoring being produced on the Flames’ top line at the moment, it wouldn’t be crazy to toss Phillips into a line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Elias Lindholm for a game or two.
In his time with the Wranglers in the AHL, Phillips has proven to be a god among men. As mentioned earlier, he is the reigning Player of the Month and currently leads the Wranglers roster in goals (15), assists (15), and points (30) while sitting in second in points across the entire league.
📹 Filthy finish from Philly! 😏 pic.twitter.com/0SCS1QUd0C
— Calgary Wranglers (@AHLWranglers) December 4, 2022
The Calgary Flames also need to give Phillips more than a few games to get adjusted to the speed and pace the NHL plays at. It’s difficult to ask any player, not only Phillips, to go out and immediately hit the scoresheet. Adam Ruzicka was no different. Last season, Ruzicka struggled to find his scoring touch with the Flames as he spent most of his time bouncing between Calgary and the Stockton Heat instead of buckling down and finding his groove. It takes time. And if the Flames want Phillips to find success, it’s paramount that they give him plenty of ice time instead of phenomenal views from the press box.
The Flames failed at this concept hard when Phillips first made his NHL debut in 2021. The sixth-round pick played in the very final game of the all-Canadian, COVID-shortened season and had not seen a lick of NHL ice time until his second start mere days ago.
It’s clear that both management and fans alike want Phillips to work out and for good reason. Phillips currently is the replacement for Lucic, which is a win in itself. The Flames are in desperate need of some additional offensive expertise, and adding it through internal connections means the club doesn’t have to give up any assets in return.
But the cherry on top in this situation would be Phillips, who grew up in Calgary, getting to play for his hometown team after all these years. Now that’s something worth cheering for.