Named after Cy Young, Mateychuk makes strong pitch to NHL teams
Growing up in Dominion City, Man., Denton Mateychuk had two sports to choose from.
"It's a pretty small town of about 300 people and the two things we have are baseball diamonds and a hockey rink," the Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman said. "I played baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter. I was playing whenever I could. It's just an awesome place."
Mateychuk is named after one of the all-time great pitchers in Cy Young.
"My dad was a pitcher and really liked the name Denton and my mom liked it too," he said. "It just worked out that my dad knew it was Cy Young's original name. My older brother is named after Greg Maddux. My dad is a big baseball fan."
Mateychuk's dad, Jason, played at Mayville State in North Dakota and is now in the Manitoba Baseball of Hall of Fame. Older brother Maddux is currently pitching for Campbellsville University in Kentucky. But when it came time to choose which sport to pursue, Denton's decision was easy.
"Hockey was always my thing," he said. "I liked playing baseball, but when I thought about what I wanted to do with my life it was always hockey. From the first time I stepped on the ice I was like, 'Yeah, I really like this.'"
What was it about hockey that set it apart?
"The five-on-five part of the game," he said. "The way you have to work together with your teammates. You can't just do it yourself. In baseball, you know, there's a pitcher and you all have your own roles."
It appears Mateychuk made the right choice. He is in Montreal this week where he will be selected in the National Hockey League draft. He came in No. 24 on TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie's final list of top prospects, which is based on a poll of scouts.
During a conversation with TSN, Mateychuk outlined how he was able to thrive in the Western Hockey League as a 5-foot-10 and a half blueliner. He also explained why Boston Bruin Charlie McAvoy is his role model. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
TSN: TSN director of scouting Craig Button has you going to the Winnipeg Jets in his final mock draft. How does that sound?
Mateychuk: "It sounds awesome. Growing up, I watched a lot of the Jets. It'd be an awesome [team] to be a part of."
TSN: How have the talks with the Jets gone?
Mateychuk: "Good. I talked to them at the combine and then a couple phone calls after and they've all been really good."
TSN: What was your favourite fan moment growing up?
Mateychuk: "Oh, that's a good question. Probably going to watch them against the Red Wings with all my teammates. My hometown team went, and it was a cool game to watch. I remember being really excited for that."
TSN: How would you describe your game?
Mateychuk: "I'm a pretty offensive defenceman. I like to join the rush and create offensive chances for my teammates and myself with my skating. I also think I can be a special teams’ guy: power play, penalty kill and those type of situations. I like to play at both ends of the ice."
TSN: How do you ensure size isn't an issue?
Mateychuk: "I use my skating really well and also my stick. I do a really good job getting my stick on the puck and use that first, but I can also incorporate my body to separate the man from the puck. I use both of those strategies to get guys off the puck. I'm not the biggest guy so it helps when I use my skating and close the gap."
TSN: Who are your NHL role models?
Mateychuk: "Growing up, I was a big Pittsburgh Penguins fan, so I watched Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang a lot. But a guy I've watched recently and want to play like in the NHL is Charlie McAvoy. He's a guy I want to resemble at the National Hockey League level."
TSN: What do you appreciate about his game?
Mateychuk: "He's got a complete game. He does a lot of things well. He's a power play guy and a penalty kill guy. He jumps in the rush and also punishes you if you're coming down on him. He can play the body well and also has a good stick. He's an all-around great player."
TSN: You're not lacking in the competitiveness department. You actually dropped the gloves with Winnipeg's Karter Prosofsky last season. What happened there?
Mateychuk: "We were playing Winnipeg at home, and it was 3-2 or 2-1 going into the third period or something like that and it was 10-2 by the end. My D partner made a big hit and there was a scrum and then the guy asked me to go, and I was like, 'You know what, let's do it.' It's one of those games where it didn't go our way, but you battle to the end, so I wasn't going to back down from that."
TSN: What was your mindset going into the fight? Like, were you prepared in any way?
Mateychuk: "Me and my brothers would wrestle a little bit growing up and stuff but, I had never really been in an actual fight or anything, so it was new to me. I throw from the left side so I thought that may give him a little surprise when I first got in there. I feel that helped me out a little bit. I felt I held up pretty good."
TSN: It wasn't your only new experience this season. What led to you playing the bumper on the power play at times?
Mateychuk: "We were at the midpoint of the season and our power play was in a bit of a slump, so we were like, 'Let's try something new.' We were watching Tampa Bay, actually, and saw their movement and we're like, 'Let's put out three forwards and let them roll and then I'll be in the bumper to support and make little two-on-one plays and stuff.' We were scared to bring it to our coach [at first] but then he said it was all good and he let us try it a couple of times in practice. He liked it so we did it for a little bit in the games and it worked well."
TSN: How did you feel in the Brayden Point role?
Mateychuk: "It definitely was different than what I'm used to at the top, but I liked it ... I see the ice pretty well and can find those little areas where you can make a pass or a quick one-timer. There's things I see on the ice and that's why I was in the middle there."
TSN: You were ranked one spot ahead of your cousin, Owen Pickering, a defenceman with Swift Current, on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters. Any bragging rights on the line between you guys at the draft?
Mateychuk: "No. We're both proud of each other and excited to see what we can do in our careers. Knowing him my whole life, I want nothing but the best for him. I'm really excited to be a part of that moment with him at the draft."
TSN: What was it like partnering with him at the CHL Top Prospects Game?
Mateychuk: "It was awesome. Being able to do that with your cousin, that's a moment you remember for a long time. I remember my family being really excited the day before the game when I told them that I got to play with Owen. We played together a little bit before but not on a stage like that and it was awesome."
TSN: You wore the 'C' for Team White. What did that mean to you?
Mateychuk: "A huge honour. I was really excited to be able to do that on a stage like that. I know that everybody was coming from different clubs so it's hard to gel, but we did a good job of that. By the game we were buying in and ready to go."
TSN: How would you describe your leadership approach?
Mateychuk: "I'm a pretty competitive guy so I'm always going full out – whether it's in practice or the gym. I like to do that, and players pick up on that. I can use my words, but I'm more of a lead-by-example guy."
TSN: How do you show your competitiveness in the gym?
Mateychuk: "Going full out. Doing it right but making sure I'm pushing myself, whether it's with the weights or the bands or whatever it is. I'm making sure I'm not going half in. I'm 100 per cent into it if I'm going to do something."
TSN: What are you focused on this off-season? Where do you want to improve?
Mateychuk: "My all-around game … and working on my shot. I want to make sure I can use it in different situations whether it's a quick release or loading it up. Also, getting faster in the gym and keeping my strength and doing all those things."