The Montreal Canadiens’ new acquisition, Mike Matheson, is a man who likes to blend in. As proof, he is not even the best hockey player in his couple; his wife, Emily Matheson, can boast of winning gold with the United States at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
This has often earned him the mockery of Jeff York, his ex-coach who was responsible for his development for three years in the NCAA with Boston College.
“I often remind him of this fact to get him off the hook, confirms the hockey man on the phone during an interview with TVASports.ca. Making friends comes naturally to him. His family instilled this quality in him and he has been developing it for several years now, since midget hockey.
“Mike is part of a team. It’s never about Michael. He doesn’t have to be the first player online. He mingles with the group from day one.
So that’s what his former agent now general manager of the Canadiens, Kent Hughes, was referring to when he called Matheson a “five-star” human being. Because Matheson is so much more than a hockey player when you take a closer look.
After all, he could very well have given up his studies in psychology when he left Boston College before his fourth year of university to make the jump to the professionals. The studious athlete went after his ambitions to complete his master’s degree even as he tried to establish himself in the best league in the world.
“He is a young man with an interesting perspective on the whole world, on all aspects of society. He’s not just a hockey player,” said his former coach.
An elite kick
Well, Matheson is not trying to attract reflectors to him; nevertheless, the hockey fan cannot remain insensitive to the grace of his skating.
The Quebecer, born in Pointe-Claire, moves majestically touching the ice. Without digging. Without superfluous movement. It is undoubtedly its trademark.
“It’s the first thing we noticed when he arrived in our program, says Jeff York. He had world-class skating, worthy of the elite.
So much so that the former general manager of the Florida Panthers Dale Tallon saw in him an emulator of Duncan Keith, a conviction which encouraged him to grant him a generous contract of $ 39 million over eight years in 2017 when Matheson did not had so far broken nothing in the National League.
This contract weighed heavily on the young defender, who lost his bearings with the Panthers before finding them with the Pittsburgh Penguins thanks to the good care of their assistant coach in charge of defenders, Todd Reirden.
“His puck skills have gotten so much better [que dans la NCAA], recognizes York. He is calmer, he makes good plays. I think Todd did a fantastic job with him showing him videos and teaching him how to play in all the different situations.
“For the record, I myself managed Todd when he was playing in Bowling Green. So I often spoke with him to hear from Mike and I can tell you that he was very excited about his progress.
It is still developing
Brainy, hot and serious, Matheson continues to develop at 28 and after seven seasons in the NHL. In doing so, the athletic qualities that earned him the first-round pick of the 2012 draft are beginning to show more and more.
Last year, he rose to another level with the Penguins: his 11 goals scored tied for the NHL ranked eighth among defensemen in the NHL, tied with Devon Toews of the Colorado Avalanche. His 31 points in 74 games represent a personal high for him.
And there is still room for improvement. Matheson recorded those results while being used an average of just 43 seconds per game on the power play. In Montreal, he is likely to have increased responsibilities in this department.
“He has a good shot, the puck comes out of his blade quickly, notes York. It is certain that on the power play in Pittsburgh, it is often Malkin and Crosby who have the puck. He will have the chance to have a greater impact at 5 v 4. But it is at 3 v 3 that you will see him dominate. He is dynamite in this facet of the game thanks to his skating.
In fact, forget the game situations. Matheson will have the chance to play more… period. He becomes almost de facto the number one defenseman of the Canadiens. That’s good, since he is able to spend a lot of time on the ice without losing his luster.
“He never runs out of steam, assures York. He can make a presence of 40-45 seconds and, even if he remains stuck in his territory, he is not out of breath, knees bent, trying to regain his senses. He is in fantastic physical shape.”
It’s youngsters Justin Barron, Kaiden Guhle and Jordan Harris who will be able to thank him, because without this “five-star human being” in training, these recruits could very well have been sent to the slaughterhouse.