It turns out that Connor Bedard isn’t the only recent graduate of the West Van Warriors Academy Prep hockey team to become an NHL Draft star.
Bedard had one of the best U-15 seasons we’ve ever seen in Canadian prep hockey, which came as no surprise to absolutely no one. He scored 64 goals and 88 points in 2018-19, playing alongside Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Fraser Minten. This helped set the stage for Bedard to become one of the NHL’s top prospects.
But a year later, a new face entered the conversation: Matthew Wood. He was tall, smart, and had a hell of a shot. He scored 40 goals that season, good for fourth place behind top prospects Zach Benson and Andrew Cristall.
For Benson and Cristall, the path forward was clear: they were sold into the WHL. Regina ended up picking Wood, with the potential for him to play alongside Bedard and make one of the best 1-2 punches in recent junior hockey history.
But Wood had different plans: college.
And that’s considerable, given Wood’s relationship with Bedard. They grew up playing with the Vancouver Vipers youth program. Wood even lived with Bedard’s family in West Van. But Wood saw college as the best route for him, giving up his time with the Pats and potentially kicking them up a notch.
That meant spending two seasons with the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies, which included an incredible 45 goals and 85 points as a draft-minus player last year. He was way too good to play Jr. A and worked in the background to make sure he could go to the University of Connecticut a year early.
It worked. He fulfilled all the requirements and became the first player born in 2005 to enter the ranks of the NCAA this year.
Hobey Baker winner Adam Fantilli stole the show among this year’s college NHL draft-eligible prospects. But Wood’s play was incredible, scoring 34 points in 35 games to lead his team as a freshman. Sure, Fantilli doubled that at Michigan, but rookies like Wood are rare, and he did it on a team without the Wolverines’ dynamic punch. So, in perspective, it’s pretty huge.
Wood capped the 2022-23 season with a bronze medal at the U-18 World Championship, showing tremendous chemistry with 2024 top prospect Macklin Celebrini. Wood scored seven goals and had 13 points, including the tying goal that sent the bronze medal game into overtime. He then set up Celebrini in overtime for the winner, capping a wild four-point night – giving him multi-point efforts in Canada’s five wins.
Like most hockey players, Wood comes across as humble in interviews. It’s a team issue, not individual efforts. After helping establish one of the biggest goals of his life, Wood wasted no time in celebrating the hard work of his teammates. But anyone who saw him play knows that Wood was one of the best players in the tournament, no matter who he lined up with.
And that’s a common theme at every level he’s played.
Wood is a tall man at 6-foot-4, which is something NHL teams love. But he’s not playing like a typical « big » prospect, like fellow college draft prospect Charlie Stramel. Wood’s game is all about skill and he has the hands to follow. He led Connecticut in shooting, averaging about three per game. And he’s a great shot too, with significant power and accuracy behind him, and with the confidence to clear him from most areas of the offensive zone.
« You don’t see a lot of leads built like him, » one scout said. « Fantilli and (Leo) Carlsson are both tall and capable, and Wood meets those criteria as well. »
A comparable that comes to mind is Ottawa’s Drake Batherson, a 6-foot-3 forward who is coming off a 62-point campaign. Batherson has quickly become one of Ottawa’s best players over the past few years and should help the team be a consistent threat in the playoffs for the foreseeable future.
As for who Wood likes to model his game on, he wears No. 71 in honor of his favorite player, Evgeni Malkin. « I always grew up watching him, he’s awesome, » Wood said. “He is big and talented. I like to play like that. I also like Mikko Rantanen and Tage Thompson, big talented guys who like to shoot and score from anywhere.
Wood’s skating is not yet at professional level, but the improvement over the past two years has been noticeable. He’s good in bursts, but lacks the true separation speed that would make him stand out in the NHL. Wood would continue to benefit from extra time in college. He’s had a nice head start over most of the draft class, but he probably still has two more years to go before he turns pro. The goal should be to continue to improve your skating while adding extra muscle.
“He has a great framework to work with, but we just need more consistency,” said a college scout. “There are too many nights off. But it will make up for it with the best game you’ve seen in a while. It’s exciting and frustrating that way.
Wood was the 15th ranked prospect in the latest Daily Faceoff draft list. Some outlets put him just outside the top 10, while Elite Prospects’ consolidated ranking puts him at 20th. So there are differing opinions on the great winger, but most will at least say the potential is intriguing. Wood has the tools to be an effective NHL player, but there’s still room to grow and put it all to good use.
Here’s one last nugget for you from another scout:
« A decade from now there will be a lot of teams regretting giving it up. »
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