Once we start talking about players I like that might be available in the later rounds, we're talking about hidden gems – players that I think are underhyped for one reason or another. Could be because they're too small, too big, not playing in the major leagues most prospects come from, don't have big point totals, were injured most of the season, and so on.
There are a few ways I try to find players like these. If I'm watching other games, I may see what I've heard Will Scouch call "glitter players" – guys who you keep noticing like shiny glitter while you're trying to focus on a different player. I could also just read scouting reports from various people, and see an odd name crop up through the year for someone they really like personally. I may also find them through simple stats – looking at players who may not have gawdy numbers at first glance, but you see some contextual stats or reasons why their stats actually seem more impressive. Could be they didn't get powerplay time, or they're on just a truly terrible team with no support around them but carried them in many ways.
Through a combination of all three of these, Matthew Mania came onto my radar. I saw him a few times while watching Quentin Musty, and I saw other scouts talk him up down the stretch while pointing to statistical reasons why he's been underrated all year.
So let's talk about why.
THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT
- Position: Right-shot defense
- League(s): OHL
- Height: 6'0"
- Weight: 187 lbs
- Birthdate: January 11th, 2005
Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:
- Bob McKenzie: Unranked (outside top 80)
- Scott Wheeler: 88th
- Elite Prospects: 46th
- Dobber Prospects: 59th
- Smaht Scouting: 56th
- Future Considerations: 41st
Matthew Mania is a right shot defenseman of average height (6'0") who had an okay looking 38 points in 67 games for Sudbury, who was a mediocre team in the OHL this year. They finished with the 13th best record, had the 7th best goals for and the 12th best goals against. They had some star power with David Goyette and Quentin Musty, but had a big dropoff after that. He has never really had a lot of hype, not at the level of someone considered a top prospect. He was a 4th round pick in the OHL
Mania did play a lot for Sudbury. He was on their top pairing at even strength, and one of a steady mix of defensemen who got some powerplay time over the year. To start the season it was Jacob Holmes as their top unit defenseman, until he was traded after 32 games. After it was a mix of Mania with Andre Anania, Nolan Collins, and Dylan Robinson. That's five different defenseman over the season.
As a result, Mania only had 7 points on the powerplay all season – all of them assists. The other side of the coin is that he has a pretty high rate of point production at even strength. In fact, as Mitch Brown points out on Twitter, Mania had the 7th best even strength point production among all OHL defenseman – and in a similar range as Ty Nelson and Christian Kyrou, who each had 70+ total points this season as top offensive defensemen in the league. The difference is, they each also had 30+ points on the powerplay.
Let's dig into what makes him an effective defenseman.
THE GOOD: PUCK MOVEMENT AND OFFENSIVE UPSIDE
Looking at the tracking data image above, Mania looks like an elite two-way defenseman. I'd say that he may hint at that for his overall potential, but the defensive part is a bit overblown. You can see that the metrics he rates out the best at have to do with stopping zone entries and successfully retrieving dump ins. Those are certainly valuable skills to have, and will help avoid being stuck in your own end having to be more of a 'stay at home' defenseman – which is good, because in that specific area he rates out more average.
Watching Mania, what I've seen is a defenseman who is a very good skater with and without the puck. He is elusive in terms of his footwork, making it hard for opponents to cut him off or check him. He's also pretty quick and explosive and able to create some separation in the first couple of strides. While his top speed is not the very best, I'd say he is definetely above average in this regard as well. Overall, his is not at the level of a Molendyk, but still at a high level.
Defensively, Mania uses his skating and a good stick to break up a lot of zone entry attempts by the other team, or to at least force a dump in. He's not the most physical, but will throw a big hit now and then. When the puck is dumped in his skating helps him get to it first, evade forecheckers and either skate it or pass it out cleanly with a high success rate. In his own end is where his defense is just okay for now. Adding some bulk and playing with more aggressiveness with his checking and his stick will help, but I think he'll probably always be just above average in his own end at best.
On transitions is where Mania's skating really shines. He often puts on a burst of speed and handles things on his own, but is not really a puck hog. If he is pressured, he will make a pass rather than force things – he has good decision making on that front. Often, he may hang onto it simply because he knows he can shed his defender and continue carrying the puck. He managed quite a few highlight rushes, either taking it to the net himself or finding a good pass to a teammate after drawing defenders to him. Here are a bunch of examples – Mania is always wearing #93.
During offensive zone possessions, Mania is also able to use his skating as a weapon in a couple of ways. First, when he gets the puck at the point, he can use his elusive feet to break down the defense and get the puck to a more dangerous area. From there he can either fire a good wrist shot – good, but not elite – and snipe a goal or create a rebound for some chaos. Or he can find an open passing lane to his teammates in a good spot for a dangerous shot. The other way his skating helps is when he activates from the point, getting deeper into the offensive zone to present a passing option in the slot, next to the net, or even pouncing on a rebound. He has a good sense of timing for that.
The other element that helps Mania offensively is that he has a good pair of hands with the puck on his stick. He has some nifty dangles, but is also smart at where he positions the puck to best avoid having it swatted away by an opposing stick. Here are examples of his skating, passing and puck handling highlights:
So Mania has a bunch of flashy highlights, he has stellar looking tracking data, and was one of the better even strength point generating defensemen in the league regardless of age. He definitely shows he has real offensive potential, and some exciting tools to build on and improve even further over the next few years. The best part is that he uses his skills to get the puck to more dangerous areas, either with his feet or through passing it.
THE FLAWS: RAW AND INCONSISTENT
You might be wondering if Mania capable of all those fun looking plays, has the great tracking data, and all those offensive tools... well why didn't he get even more points? Why wasn't he used on the powerplay more to have a chance to get more on the powerplay? It's not like they had any other great, obvious option at any point this season. And why doesn't he have a lot of hype in this draft, to the point that Bob McKenzie didn't even have him as an honourable mention in his mid-season rankings for the top 80 + HMs. Even a lot of scouting outlets who have their final ranking list out don't really have him that high. He's a second rounder at the highest, and not ranked at all by others.
The main flaws with Mania is that while he shows some exciting tools and potential, he still seems pretty raw. He's more potential than anything else, which is my nice way of saying he can be frustratingly inconsistent in his execution. He may be able to do enough to have the sterling looking tracking data – his biggest problem seems to be after a transition is over, when executing on a play can lead to the desired outcome. His shot is okay and he can sometimes use it well, but it's most dangerous off the rush or when he can get it into the slot. From the point he'd be relying on a deflection or screen, and he doesn't really show much of a slap shot.
Mania's passing will be his biggest weapon, and here he may have been a bit unlucky in terms of not having a great group of forwards to finish his set ups outside of Musty and Goyette. But this is another area where he can be inconsistent in frustrating ways, because he feels so close a lot of the time. After watching him a bit more for this, I think that the issue is his passing is most inconsistent when he tries to complete a higher risk pass. Making the basic, clean passes up the ice is easier for him, when he has some speed and more open ice to work with. In the offensive zone with a fixed defense in front of him seems to present more of a challenge to him.
On top of the above, I think he also frustrates people with his in-zone defense. Again, I don't think Mania is terrible at it. It's just when a top defensive prospect doesn't quite have elite offensive production and has those frustrating inconsistencies, not having the defense to fall back on makes him seem more risky than others. For example, while Molendyk doesn't have the offensive skills that Mania presents, him having better defensive skills is enough for him to be ranked higher almost across the board.
I can see why Mania doesn't quite have the hype in this draft as other defensemen I've written about, but I do think he shows enough tools and potential for me to consider him 100% in the later rounds. I'll know how likely it is when McKenzie's final rankings come out. If he sneaks in at the end or gets an honourable mention, I'll assume there isn't much of a chance he gets to the fifth round. But if he doesn't, I think it is a realistic possibility.
I mean he's exactly what I'd want in a fifth round pick. He has real tools and potential to be an impact defenseman in the NHL. There are no huge flaws like terrible skating, awful decision making, or anything like that. I think there is a good chance he takes the top powerplay spot for Sudbury next year and runs with it on a much deeper and better team, and could have a big leap in his offensive production. That will make him look a lot better to people, but I'm more hoping to see improvements to his consistency and his defense, which I think could also come.
It's worth remembering that the vast majority of draft picks in the fifth round or later never play a single game in the NHL. But I think Mania still has some real possibility of being even a second pairing defenseman who handles the breakouts, transitions and can pitch in on the powerplay. The defense may make him more of a third pairing specialist in that manner, similar to what Rasmus Sandin's early career has been. But damn that's a big win for a later round pick, so I am 100% on board with Toronto snatching him up if he's available. Hell, I'd be okay with swinging on him in the third round if they get there from trading down or something.
Thanks for reading!
I put a lot of work into my prospect articles here, both for the draft and Toronto's prospects. I do it as a fun hobby for me, and I'd probably do it in some capacity even if PPP completely ceased to exist. But if you like reading my work, some support would go a long way! I pay for a few streaming services (CHL, some NCAA, some USHL, the occasional TSN options for international tournaments that are broadcast) to be able to reliably watch these prospects in good quality streams. I also pay for some prospect-specific resources, such as tracking data and scouting reports from outlets like Elite Prospects, Future Considerations, McKeen's Hockey, and The Athletic.
Being able to get paid for this helps me dedicate more time and resources to it, rather than to second/third jobs. And whatever money I make here, a lot of I reinvest back into my prospect work through in those streaming and scouting services. Like I said, I'd be doing whatever I can afford for this anyway, so any financial help I get through this is greatly appreciated!