By Kirk Luedeke
There aren’t many players who elevated their stock more than Guelph Storm defenseman Matt Finn for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh.
|Guelph d-man Matt Finn made huge strides in his second OHL season under new coach Scott Walker. (Getty Images)|
The native of Etobicoke, Ontario was the 96th-ranked prospect in the Red Line Report’s August issue, but rose all the way to 14th by the time the independent scouting service’s May list came out.
A skilled defender who does not possess ideal size at 6-feet, 197 pounds, but compensates with a superior hockey IQ and work ethic, Finn is a viable option for the Bruins if he lasts to the 24th overall selection in Pittsburgh June 22.
“I’m a two-way defenseman who can contribute at both ends of the ice,” Finn said recently as he prepared to attend the NHL’s scouting combine close to home in Toronto. “This year I think I took the reins on the power play and showed off some promise there, and I also played tons of time on the PK as a shutdown guy.”
Finn also feels he brings a lot to the table in the intangibles department.
“I have good hockey sense and can read the developing play pretty well,” he said. “I can make crisp first passes; the kind that open up seams in defenses and help create offensive chances for my team. Off-ice, I try to be a leader in terms of setting a good example and working as hard as I can in the weight room and in practices.
“I think this shows in my play: I want to win, and helping my team to win hockey games is the most important attribute I can bring.”
As Guelph’s top pick 12th overall in the 2010 OHL Priority Selection, Finn was in danger of not meeting some of the loftier expectations going into his draft year.
Although Finn played upwards of 20-25 minutes a night as an OHL rookie on Guelph’s top pairing, in the words of one NHL scout, Finn looked like “an average defender lacking a real upside” en route to posting three goals and 21 points. He was a solid, unspectacular player in his first OHL season, but did not really assert himself offensively the way pundits expected after a 22-goal, 57-point year in midget AAA.
However, a funny thing happened in head coach Scott Walker’s first season: Finn grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns, and established himself as a solid first-round option next month. After scoring 10 goals and 48 points in 61 games in his second OHL season while continuing to log significant ice time and in all critical situations, Finn appears poised for an even bigger breakthrough next season.
“I like him a lot; he’s a steady, top-four guy with the chance to be more,” the NHL scout said when asked to project Finn recently. “There isn’t a ton of flash with Finn, but he eats minutes and is one of the smartest players in this draft class.”
The former Toronto Marlboros minor midget star grew up in the hockey hotbed and played on the Jr. Marlies with fellow 2012 draft candidates Scott Laughton, Adam Pelech, Scott Kosmachuk and Connor Brown. Along with Storm teammate Kosmachuk, Finn flourished this year under the tutelage of former NHL grinding forward Scott Walker.
“It was huge having a coach like Scotty,” said Finn. “He knows what it takes to get there and stay there (in the NHL). He taught us that it doesn’t matter how skilled or unskilled you are, you have to work hard and that effort level is going to often be the difference-maker for you each night. He’s a pretty inspirational presence, and you’d have to be crazy not to listen to him after all he accomplished as a professional hockey player.”
Finn does have a couple of areas that knock him down from being a surefire top-10 selection in the NHL draft: his size is only average for the position, and his skating, while not poor, is an area he needs to improve.
“I would say my explosiveness and first three steps,” Finn said when asked to identify problem areas in his mobility. “My pivoting is something I need to work on as well. Players are so much more faster and skilled at the higher levels, so I know I’ve got to get quicker and more fluid to better handle that kind of speed.”
A devout follower of the Toronto Maple Leafs as a youngster, Finn looked up to Bryan McCabe and goaltender Curtis Joseph the most. These days, however, Finn is all about trying to pattern his game and style after Detroit Red Wings future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom.
“The things he does out there are unbelievable,” said Finn. “To be that effective at his age and dominate like he does on both sides of the ice is something that every player should try to aspire to.”
Finn’s maturity and character are some of the first things that stand out about him, and for Guelph assistant GM Mike Kelly, the young defender immediately brought that leadership to the organization.
“Matt Finn is 18 going on 27,” Kelly told Islanders Point Blank. “He is well above the maturity level of any kid that I have ever come across.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, Finn backed that assertion up with an uncommon look at the NHL draft when compared to many of his peers.
“I look at it as something that’s going to happen,” he said when asked about his excitement for the draft process. “The Combine will be fun and I’m sure I will be a better player for having gone through it, but when I look at the draft, it’s just another stepping stone.
“All my life, I’ve been waiting for it to happen and working for it, and in that aspect, there is a level of anticipation and excitement. But in reality, it’s a milestone and it doesn’t mean I’ve made it. It’s going to be just another day in my life, and I know that once it happens, I’m going to have to work that much harder to earn a spot with the team that drafts me.”
Given how much he accomplished in this critical season of his development, there is no doubt that NHL clubs will have no trouble believing that Finn is sincere and focused on putting his words into action.