As the 2016 NHL Draft began to wind down on Saturday, the Toronto Maple Leafs continued to draft for size, taking London Knights defensemen Nicolas Mattinen.
Mattinen, fresh off winning the Memorial Cup despite frequently being a healthy scratch, is a 6-4, 220-pound defensemen whose reach made him a strong defensive presence as a rookie with the Knights this season.
On London's playoff run, Mattinen played in just five games, registering a lone goal. This came after a 39-game regular season with the Knights (four goals, six assist) the year after he was named to the CCHL's All-Rookie Team with the Cumberland Grads.
Mattinen joins a long list of players the Leafs drafted for size on the second day of the NHL Draft. Through Leafs director of player development Mark Hunter, Mattinen was also drafted and developed with the Knights.
Unranked by our staff at Future Considerations, Mattinen's size and early birthday were clearly a factor in drafting him as a potential project project in the seventh round. Offensively, he does a good job getting pucks through traffic but doesn't have a particularly heavy shot. He's an adequate handler, but it's certainly not a strength.
His selection continued to mark a stark departure from the draft philosophy that saw the Leafs target highly skilled players like Martins Dzierkals, Jeremy Bracco and Dmytro Timashov at last year's draft. Including Matthews, the Leafs drafted and targeted nine out of 11 of their players for size. Only Adam Brooks of the Regina Pats was clearly a skill-first selection.
Mattinen, an average skater for his size, is an intelligent defender without the puck and does a good job closing gaps and keeping stick-on-puck in order to actively disrupt attacking forwards. As the likes of Victor Mete and Olli Juolevi quickly move on from London, Mattinen will be challenged to step into a more prominent role as early as next year.