By Bill Whitehead
CORAL SPRINGS — When you look at various scouting reports on Florida Panthers’ prospect Michael Matheson, the positives seemingly jump off the page. The defenseman can move the puck swiftly out of his end and has great vision to anticipate the outlet pass. Skating? It’s perhaps his greatest attribute. The Boston College sophomore-to-be, the 23rd overall pick last year in the draft in Pittsburgh, was cited by the Florida brass as being the fastest skater in the draft — effortless, fluid and drawing comparisons to Brian Campbell, his brethren in red hair.
The downside in the assessment of Matheson’s game is the defensive side, particularly the physical aspect of being a blueliner. He’s not the type of d-man, some say, who will put the body on an attacking forward and win physical battles.
Matheson doesn’t necessarily agree.
“I’d say that’s one of my underestimated areas of my game. I’ve always laid the body and always tried to be a physical guy. I don’t go out of my way to get huge hits,” Matheson said Friday after the scrimmage and shootout demonstration that closed Florida’s developmental camp.
In the first of the two 30-minute practice periods in one of those one-on-one moments, the 6-foot-2 Matheson had to separate the puck from forward Rocco Grimaldi, and, well, let’s just say the BC Eagle got the better of the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. Matheson outfought and tossed down the shorter Grimaldi, who has a reputation as a player who, while small, is a strong skater who is difficult to knock off the puck.
“Rocco was trying to dangle,” Matheson said, chuckling, while Grimaldi was across the room doing ab work on the dressing room floor.
“It isn’t the main part of my game, but I guess I don’t like shying away from it.”
Fluent in both English and French — he hails from Pointe-Claire, Quebec, just west of Montreal — Matheson will return to Boston College and try to get the Eagles to the Frozen Four. There he will be joined in the defensive corps by Ian McCoshen, Florida’s second-round pick in Newark and more of a defensive-minded defenseman. McCoshen, who attended Shattuck-St. Mary’s in his hometown of Faribault, Minn., played three years with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL.
“I think I had a good week, though I wasn’t happy with my performance today,” Matheson summarized. “Overall, I was pretty happy with the on-ice sessions and off-ice sessions. It was good to get another view of what level I have to get to to play here.
“I don’t really have specific expectations. I was happy with my (freshman) year overall. But at the same time, there were things I could’ve done better and I’m working toward them. I don’t think I’ll be (at BC) all four years…The talent here is really exciting.”
The development of Matheson will be fun to watch on NESN throughout the college hockey season on those nights when the Panthers are idle. You can watch the 19-year-old run the power play for BC coach Jerry York, and no doubt he’ll dazzle you with his skating — he did that in Friday’s scrimmage.
And don’t worry about that physical play either.
Just ask Rocco.