REGINA – Most WHL defencemen would be in trouble, especially one of the inexperienced variety.
Veteran Prince Alberta Raiders’ forward Matthew Culling hard in pursuit, skating momentum is lagging, the boards are approaching.
Not Moose Jaw Warriors’ 16-year-old rookie Denton Mateychuk.
A quick turn back to his own net, a shimmy, and a shake, and the puck is back up ice in the blink of an eye.
In the second period of the same game, his stick explodes as he is about to unleash a slapper, but instead of pouting in frustration, he hustles, grabs a new one from the bench, and zips back in plenty of time to lift the Raider attacker’s stick at the critical moment.
Those plays are Mateychuk to a tee.
“Breaking the puck out (under pressure) just kind of comes naturally to me,” Mateychuk said to the DUBNetwork.
“The confidence and encouragement to do that, to improvise at times, comes from my coaches and teammates here: they always tell me to just play my game, be myself. The coaching staff is always telling me to just play my game, don’t do anything extra, but don’t hinder yourself either.”
Translation: Denton is free to adlib, there are no training wheels here.
At 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds, Mateychuk has regularly demonstrated that he will not be over-powered in the defensive zone either, potentially explained by the fact that he has been competing with Maddux, his older brother by two years, who is a 6-foot-3, 220-lb monster and pitcher for the Canadian National Junior Baseball Team.
Back to back birthdays in the Mateychuk house. Maddux turned 17 yesterday and denton turned 15 today. Happy birthday guys! pic.twitter.com/USV8l7qzWH
— J Matey (@JMatey1) July 12, 2019
Still, his best defensive attribute is simply that the puck is on his stick all the time: the best defence in the 21st-Century is simply to have the puck.
Watch him make the other team look like they aren’t even on the ice here in the Hub opener:
“He’s got that ability to break out pucks on his own with his speed and deception,” said his head coach Mark O’Leary.
“He’s dangerous in the offensive zone, he kind of plays hard in all four corners of the rink and he’s exciting to watch. He also has a work ethic to match all of that, so he’s a real dynamic player, and with all the young players on our team, it’s a real exciting time for the Moose Jaw Warriors.”
Save some hype for Denton
A 2004 birth-year, Mateychuk was drafted by the Warriors in the first round, 11th overall in 2019, and made his Western Hockey League debut that same year – Dec. 13 at Brandon, to be exact.
2019 1st round pick Denton Mateychuk has committed to the Warriors & the WHL w/ the signing of a Standard Player Agreement.
— Moose Jaw Warriors (@MJWARRIORS) June 3, 2019
You can be forgiven for not knowing about him as much as the likes of 2005-born forwards Brayden Yager or Connor Bedard, who the media have placed at the centre of the Regina Hub; but make no mistake, he’s been on the radar for a long time.
With all that hype on the even-younger youngsters, Mateychuk, still considered a rookie despite the seven games he played as a call-up in 2019-20, says he is not frustrated that he is not getting the same amount of attention.
“It has taken a bit of pressure off me I guess,” he said.
“I try not to think about it too much. Those guys are both really good players, and obviously, Regina and Moose Jaw have always been great rivals, so it’s great to have these two greats ’05 players that can battle each other for a long time. It’s not a bad thing, but I try not to think about it too much.”
Mateychuk the Olympian
Further evidence that Mateychuk is a known quantity around the hockey world is that he represented Canada at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Switzerland, as the only Manitoban, and did so alongside the likes of projected high 2022 NHL Draft picks Matt Savoie, Antonin Verreault, and Justin Cote (among others).
He also faced electric Russian forward Matvei Michkov at the Games, the only player the pundits feel could challenge Bedard for No. 1 overall in 2023.
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) January 18, 2020
It was an experience Mateychuk, who was on the ice as Canada held on for a 4-2 bronze-medal game victory over Finland, will never forget.
“It was unbelievable,” he said.
“Getting to know all the guys from around Canada that I hadn’t met before, playing against all these new players, it was just amazing. We packed the rink against the U.S.A. (in the semi-finals), I think there were 10,000 people there, it was a crazy atmosphere and an awesome experience. It was too bad we weren’t able to win the gold, but it was still an absolute honour to represent our country.”
Also, how about 23 goals, 61 points in 36 games as a defenceman in his WHL draft year?
“He was just unreal in (U15) AAA…unstoppable,” said one coach.
“He has always been very impressive (around Manitoba), so it isn’t a big surprise that he’s doing what he’s doing with the Warriors.”
What he’s doing at the Subway Regina Hub is averaging over 20 minutes-per-game on Moose Jaw’s top pairing alongside Captain Daemon Hunt.
He is also a regular as the lone defenceman in Coach O’Leary’s two forwards-one D-man scheme that has yielded three victories out of three opportunities so far.
That trust the coaching staff put in Mateychuk was rewarded very quickly this season, as in overtime during the Hub opener vs. Brandon last Friday, he helped break up an attack on one end, deftly flipped a pass to Tate Popple, blew by two Wheat Kings to create a two-on-one, and the 20-year-old forward with him finished it off.
Watch Denton fly:
Just one of many examples of how the young Manitoban has been instrumental in Moose Jaw’s success to begin the 2021 campaign.
“Denton is the type of kid that is going to put butts in seats,” O’Leary said.
“There’s never a play that he can’t impact, can’t be involved in, and he’s a real smart player. He’s a treat to coach, and that while there are no fans here yet, when we get back to Moose Jaw the fans will have a lot of fun watching Denton. He takes risks on the ice but I think they are calculated, he has a lot of trust in his legs, and he knows that if it doesn’t go well with the risk then he can use his legs to get back into position.”