Do you know what the worst part about making a Prospect Ranking series that goes all the way from top-to-bottom is? The fact that someone has to fall to the first step of the latter, the base of the pyramid, or whatever you’d like to call it.

After all, you don’t want to be the person who called somebody the worst prospect in the organization. But that leads to all sorts of different questions, like “could worst on one team be better than a tier above the bottom on another team”, or “is it worse to not bother trying to talk about a player at all?”

Unfortunately for Nicolas Mattinen, he finds himself in the middle of my personal debate. This year, he’s the Leafs prospect I’m least confident in; but let’s not confuse this for a roasting session, by any means.

Age 19 (March 5, 1998) Birthplace Orleans, Ontario
Pos Defence (LH) Drafted 2016 (Rd 6, Pick 179)
Vitals 6’4, 218lbs Acquired Via Draft

Unironically, the thing that I enjoy the most about Mattinen’s come up is that he comes from enemy territory. The 19-year-old grew up just outside of Ottawa and is one of a growing group that grew up Senators fans. Of course, most childhood loyalties fly out the window on draft day, but I like the idea of Toronto’s regional rival having some kids that have been fans since Day 1; it’s good for banter.

It’s not hard to deduce why the Leafs selected him a little over a year ago. The last two drafts seem to have involved spreading the team’s cachet of sizes and positions, particularly in the mid to late rounds, and Mattinen is both gigantic and a player that Mark Hunter had the resources to be familiar with as a member of the London Knights. Being an early birth month worked in his favour too; it gave somewhat of a feeling that there was room to grow.

 AGE  SEASON TEAM LEAGUE GP G A TP PIM NHLe +/-
13  2011-12  Upper Canada Cyclones  OEMBHL 28 3 11 14 38
14  2012-13  Eastern Ontario Wild  OEBHL 29 5 4 9 20
15  2013-14  Eastern Ontario Wild  OEMMHL 30 6 14 20 24
16  2014-15  Cumberland Grads  CCHL 53 4 10 14 48
17  2015-16  London Knights  OHL 39 4 6 10 24 6.3 4
18  2016-17  London Knights  OHL 66 2 6 8 75 3 13

Unfortunately, he didn’t really take much of a step forward despite more opportunity to do so. Mattinen’s production actually dropped this season, and it’s difficult to blame that solely on not getting sufficient minutes. Prospect-Stats’ 5v5 estimations had Mattinen playing relatively relaxed minutes as far as competition went, while still finishing third-last on the team in relative goal differential (GF%Rel). His rate of offensive production the lowest among regulars on the team, and while not getting powerplay time likely doesn’t help, we are still talking about someone who was throwing pucks on net more frequently than any of his teammates. “On net” is about as far as they went, though; Mattinen shot at just 1.94% this year. That seems a bit on the low side, but even if you were to quadruple his luck, we’d still be talking about a sub-15 point defenceman in major junior, which isn’t encouraging.

His rate of offensive production the lowest among regulars on the team, and while not getting powerplay time likely doesn’t help, we are still talking about someone who was throwing pucks on net more frequently than any of his teammates. “On net” is about as far as they went, though; Mattinen shot at just 1.94% this year. That seems a bit on the low side, but even if you were to quadruple his luck, we’d still be talking about a sub-15 point defenceman in major junior, which isn’t encouraging.

pGPSn pGPSs Exp. Success % Exp. P/82 Exp. Value
335 (6/31) 24 (11/31) 5.2% (27/31) 19.3 (26/31) 1.0 (28/31)

The above numbers are products of the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System (pGPS), created by Canucks Army to project a prospect’s odds of becoming an NHL regular. For a run-down on what each of these stats mean, head back to the introduction.

Historically speaking, the odds aren’t particularly in Mattinen’s favour. While there are many other big, unproductive defencemen who have also been given looks because of the physical maturity they show for their age, a low percentage of them manage to hit the 200-game barrier. Looking closely at the names that come up, it’s hard to be super excited about even the best case scenarios; Jake Muzzin is your absolute moonshot, but that seems unlikely. Besides that, we’re talking about names like Dalton Prout, Adam McQuaid, and John Erskine, who manage to find their way into lineups but rarely provide positive-impact results.

Scouts and “hockey people” seem to be a bit more forgiving when describing Mattinen’s upside, though. Many bring up the gap control that his large frame affords him, and he’s received much praise for his heavy slapshot. He’s not super aggressive in his approach to defence, but has the capability to outmuscle opponents if need be.

Admittedly, what I’ve seen of Mattinen on a personal level is limited; in the background of the odd Knights highlight, and his showings at this month’s Leafs rookie tournament. I didn’t really see anything that I liked there; while not a horrible skater, very good ones seemed capable of taking advantage of his mobility, and when he wasn’t shooting the puck, he didn’t seem particularly great at controlling it. Again, though; that’s a pair of games and shouldn’t necessarily be the gospel, but it makes me wonder if the reason why his NHL-quality slapshot has perpetually struggled to find the back of the net is because he doesn’t have the talent (yet?) to find a good spot to unleash it.

The Upcoming Year

Mattinen was part of the first wave of Training Camp cuts from the Maple Leafs this week, confirming the mass expectation of him returning to the Knights for next year. That didn’t last too long either, though, as he was traded to the Flint Firebirds for draft picks on September 19th. This makes you wonder how much confidence the Leafs have in him moving forward; the Mark Hunter connection has made the Knights a bit of a safe haven for Toronto’s prospects in recent years, so one moving away from the team is a bit curious. Then again, the pick haul was decently substantial (a 2nd, a 3rd, and a conditional 3rd), so this may just be a matter of business.

Flint had it’s three highest scoring defencemen graduate on to school or pro hockey this year, leaving some spots open for those below them or for newcomers. While the biggest benefactor may be another Leafs prospect in Fedor Gordeev, Mattinen should get a chance to prove himself and fight for a decent-minute role over the next few weeks.

Long-Term Outlook

All of this considered, I wouldn’t be betting the farm on Mattinen’s success, or even on him drawing into the NHL with the Leafs at any point. Even depth players tend to score on their way up, and while Mattinen has a bit of junior time left to take the next step, we’re talking about a player who hasn’t hit a point a game since at least Minor Bantam.

The hope is, of course, that he’ll one day fill into his frame, find out where he’s best off shooting and will become a big, steady defenceman. But that mould is starting to die off; particularly ones without straight up mean streaks.

If I were betting safe money, I’d think that we’re a few years away from even talking about Mattinen as a pro, let alone a contributing NHLer. Presently speaking, he’s not a player I’d give much priority to on the depth chart in the long run, though I’d love to be proven wrong.

To see the other profiles in this year’s series, please reference the full list.

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