With a sound offensive game and skating abilities that even Kristi Yamaguchi would envy, 19-year-old defenseman Mike Matheson has worked his way to the top of an already impressive group of talented Florida Panthers’ defensive prospects.
Selected in the 1st round (23rd overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Matheson, a Quebec native, spent the 2012-2013 season sharpening his skills while playing collegiate hockey for the Boston College Eagles. While he would have been able to get more game experience playing in the CHL, Matheson expressed to me in an interview earlier this year that playing collegiate hockey would give him more free time to spend in the gym, putting on weight and building up his frame to withstand the rigors of the NHL.
In his freshman campaign, Matheson was able to record an impressive 25 points (8G – 17A – 25P), including 6 powerplay goals. With his exceptional skating and puck handling skills, Matheson demonstrated the kind of prowess on the powerplay that the Panthers hope will translate to the professional level. However, even with Matheson’s efforts, the Boston College Eagles failed to reach the Frozen Four last season.
Luckily for Matheson, the Eagles will be receiving some aid in the defensive zone this upcoming season in form of Panthers’ 2013 2nd round draft pick, Ian McCoshen. Heading into his freshman season, McCoshen’s large frame (6’3, 207lbs) and two-way play-style should be a nice compliment to Matheson’s offensive game.
“I was really happy that they were able to get him,” Matheson said when asked about McCoshen joining the Panthers. “I think both of us going through the same situation and then being able to go through next year pushing ourselves will help both of us hopefully get to this organization”
Likewise, Ian McCoshen echoed Matheson’s enthusiasm when asked about the idea of getting to share the blue line with a fellow Panther next season.
“We’ve got that camaraderie going right now with development camp here,” McCoshen said of his blossoming relationship with Matheson. “Just getting to know him more and hopefully play with him would be pivotal for both of us.”
While the future looks bright for Boston College next season, Matheson’s time there may be running out. Although he is unlikely to make the Panthers’ lineup this season, Matheson made it clear that his development on the ice, not his education, would dictate how long he stays in college.
“Definitely in the next year or two I’d to try and make this team. I don’t think that I will stay at BC all 4 years,” Matheson said of his future with Boston College. “Does that mean I only stay 2? 3? I’m not sure. That’s up to them (the Panthers), but then of course up to me and how I develop and how much I work on my game.”
When it comes to his development, even a prospect as highly regarded as Matheson can admit that his game is far from perfect. While he may be an exceptional offensive talent, he recognizes the need to establish a more well-rounded game in order to succeed as a defenseman in the NHL.
“My defense obviously still needs work, but just simplifying and making sure my decisions are getting better and better,” Matheson said when asked about what he will be working on this season. “At the next level there is less and less time to make those decisions so they have to be automatic.”
With Brian Campbell signed through the 2015-2016 season, the Panthers hope that Matheson will be able to ease right into Campbell’s spot in the future and become the next great quarterback of the team’s powerplay. After having already drawn several comparisons to Campbell, Matheson could benefit greatly from a year or two of tutelage under the veteran defenseman when he does eventually make the jump to the NHL. This kind of mentoring could prove to be invaluable to Matheson’s growth as a player, as well as a dream come true on a personal level.
“As someone I have watched for a long time, it would be really special to be on the ice with Brian Campbell,” Matheson said of his hopes to play alongside the Panthers’ alternate Captain. “Hopefully one day that is possible, but I would have to make sure I don’t get caught watching him instead of playing.”
Already a naturally gifted athlete, the holes in Matheson’s game are all things that can be remedied through hard work and repetition. Over the next year, look for Matheson to make great strides in his defensive game, as well as continuing to build on his already stellar offensive skillset. Given the progress he has already made just this past season, it is likely that Matheson will enter the Panthers’ 2014-2015 training camp determined and ready to make his NHL debut.
Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!
Follow Jameson on Twitter @JamesonCoop
For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook
Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway