Matthew Phillips received huge news on Monday. The 25-year-old forward made the Washington Capitals out of Training Camp.
At Capitals practice, Phillips was one of just 13 forwards out on the ice ahead of NHL 23-man rosters being due at 5 pm. The 2023-24 campaign will be the Calgary native’s first-ever season starting off with a big club after the Flames had him start in the minor leagues the past five years.
Phillips was overjoyed at the result, smiling all the way through reporters’ questioning in his media availability after the skate.
“I’m really excited about it,” Phillips said. “It feels really good. It’s something that I was working all summer for and, frankly, kinda been working my whole life for. It feels really good.”
Phillips, who was originally drafted by the Flames in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, has been one of the AHL’s top players the past two seasons. Under new Caps assistant coach Mitch Love with the Calgary Wranglers last season, Phillips put up 76 points (36g, 40a) in 66 games.
Despite that tremendous AHL success, he received only three games at the NHL level with Calgary over the past three years and has yet to record his first NHL point. Given the inconsequential look he was given by (the very hard to please) Darryl Sutter in Calgary, it’d be easy for Phillips to feel vindictive about his fresh start but he’d rather focus on the positives.
“I don’t know about proved people wrong,” Phillips said. “There’s also a lot of people that I’d like to say that I proved right. I’m just really excited to be here and they gave me a great opportunity and put a lot of trust in me so just trying to do my best every day.”
Caps head coach Spencer Carbery revealed why he believes Phillips made the final 23-man roster. Phillips beat out more experienced names like Joe Snively and Nicolas-Aube Kubel and is currently slotted ahead of Anthony Mantha on the depth chart as well.
“Because he had a phenomenal camp and he’s a resilient, hard-working, detailed (player), and has a pretty impressive skill set,” Carbery said.
And, while Phillips’ two preseason goals may standout for those just watching stat sheets, Carbery says it was his whole game that led to him making the NHL squad.
“I look at the process stuff,” Carbery said. “So if he’s generating, if he doesn’t score on those two [chances], but he still was a part of a ton of good looks, which he was, that’s what I’m evaluating on. How was his positioning? How were his forecheck touches? How are all those that led to the chances?
“What I evaluate inside of forwards’ games is doing things to get into those areas. Now, eventually, he’s going to have to finish in those and we need some production there but if you’re doing a lot of good things and you’re in good spots and positionally you’re good and you’re getting those opportunities, I just believe at some point those will go in for you.”
Phillips has skated the bulk of the preseason on a line with Dylan Strome and Sonny Milano. Carbery kept that line together for practice on Monday and it’s easy to see why given the success they’ve had.
Strome finished the preseason as the team’s top scorer with five points (1g, 4a) and the three as a unit combined for 11 total points. In their 33:36 of five-on-five ice time together, the Caps also saw 67.8 percent of the shot attempts, 74 percent of the expected goals, 66.2 percent of the scoring chances, and 90.2 percent of the high-danger chances.
“Well, it helps a lot coming into a new situation like this with two guys that are awesome players and established NHL players,” Phillips said. “They’re super smart, extremely skilled. It’s been pretty beneficial for me. Just trying to make plays all the time with them. I think the three of us see the ice in a similar way. It’s been really good.”
Carbery added why he thinks Phillips is so well suited to play on that line. “I think he’s a really smart player, and I think he has really good tight area skill game, which both those guys do as well,” he said. “What skill players like that have a tendency to do, is they’re reading where the next play is going and where space is. And he’s really up at their level in terms of that.”
Phillips, who was a huge fan of Alex Ovechkin growing up, is now just days away from making his Caps debut with The Great Eight sharing the same bench. And, Phillips’ support system will be watching his every move.
“My parents, obviously. They’re watching very closely,” Phillips said. “I’ve got some family in Newfoundland. My grandpa out in Newfoundland is a huge fan so they’re happy that the games are on the east coast now, little easier to stay up and watch. Grandparents, cousins, everyone is super excited.
“It’s something that I’m super proud of. I’ve had a lot of support along the way. It’s just a lot of excitement.”
Screenshot via Capitals
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