“Teams will regret letting it go.” 2023 NHL Draft prospect Matthew Wood brings huge scoring potential in a huge frame

As it turns out, Connor Bedard isn’t the only recent graduate of the West Van Warriors Academy Prep hockey team who became an NHL Draft star.

Bedard had one of the best U-15 seasons we’ve seen in Canadian high school hockey, surprising absolutely no one. He scored 64 goals and 88 points in 2018-19, playing alongside Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Fraser Minten. That helped set the stage for Bedard to become one of the NHL’s top prospects.

But a year later, a new face entered the conversation: Matthew Wood. He was big, smart and had a great shot. He scored 40 goals that season, ranking fourth behind top prospects Zach Benson and Andrew Cristall.

For Benson and Cristall, the way forward was clear: They sold out in the WHL. Regina ended up taking Wood, with the potential for him to play alongside Bedard and pull off one of the best 1-2 shots in recent youth hockey history.

But Wood had other plans: college.

And that’s considerable, given Wood’s relationship with Bedard. They grew up playing together with the Vancouver Vipers youth program. Wood even lived with Bedard’s family while he was in West Van. But Wood saw college as the best route for him, giving up his time with the Pats and potentially taking them to another level.

That meant spending two seasons with the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies, which included an incredible 45 goals and 85 minus one draft player points last year. She was too good to play Jr. A, and worked in the background to make sure she got to go to the University of Connecticut a year early.

It worked. He ticked all the boxes and became the first player born in 2005 to set foot in the NCAA hockey ranks this year.

Hobey Baker winner Adam Fantilli stole the spotlight among the prospects eligible for the NHL Draft this year in college. But Wood’s game was incredible, scoring 34 points in 35 games to lead his team his first year. Sure, Fantilli doubled that at Michigan, but standout rookies like Wood are rare, and he did it on a team without the scoring dynamics the Wolverines had. So, in perspective, it’s pretty tremendous.

Wood capped off the 2022-23 season with a bronze medal at the Under-18 World Championship, displaying tremendous chemistry with top 2024 prospect Macklin Celebrini. Wood had seven goals and 13 points, including the game-tying goal that sent the bronze medal game into overtime. He then set up Celebrini in overtime for the winner, capping off a wild four-point night, giving him multiple point efforts in all five of Canada’s wins.

Like most hockey players, Wood is humble in interviews. It’s about the team, not individual efforts. After helping set one of his biggest life goals, Wood wasted no time celebrating the work his teammates did. But anyone who has seen him play knows that Wood was one of the best players in the tournament, no matter who he sided with.

And that’s a common theme at every level he’s played.

Wood is a big man at 6-foot-4, which NHL teams like. But he doesn’t play like a typical “big” prospect, like fellow college draft prospect Charlie Stramel. Wood’s game is all about skill, and he has the hands to keep up with it. He led Connecticut in shots, averaging about three per game. And he’s also an excellent shot, bringing significant power and accuracy, and the confidence to shoot it from most areas of the offensive zone.

“You don’t see many prospects built like him,” said one scout. “Fantilli and (Leo) Carlsson are big and skilled, and Wood meets that criteria as well.”

A comparable that comes to mind is Ottawa’s Drake Batherson, a 6-foot-3 forward coming off a 62-point campaign. Batherson quickly became one of Ottawa’s best players in recent years and should help the team be a consistent playoff threat in the near future.

As for who Wood likes to model his game for, he wears the number 71 in honor of his favorite player, Evgeni Malkin. “I always grew up watching it, it’s great,” Wood said. “He is big and skilled. I like to play like this. I also like Mikko Rantanen and Tage Thompson, big, skilled guys who love to shoot and score from anywhere.”

Wood’s skating isn’t quite professional yet, but the improvement over the past two years has been remarkable. He’s good at bursting, but he doesn’t have the true game-changing speed of separation that will allow him to excel in the NHL. Wood would continue to benefit from extra time in college. He got a good lead compared to most of the draft class, but he probably has another two years to go before turning pro. His goal should be to continue to improve his skating while he adds some extra muscle.

“He has a great framework to work with, but we just need to see more consistency,” said a college scout. “There are too many nights off. But it will make up for it with the best game you’ve seen in a long time. It’s exciting and frustrating in that sense.”

Wood was the 15th-ranked prospect on the latest Daily Faceoff draft list. Some outlets have him just outside the top 10, while the Elite Prospects Consolidated Ranking has him at 20. So there are a few differing opinions on the big winger, but most will at least say the potential is intriguing. Wood has the tools to be an effective NHLer, but there’s still room to grow and put all of it to good use.

Here’s one last nugget for you from another explorer:

“A decade from now, there will be many teams that will regret leaving it.”


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