By Jared Brown
Matthew Poitras And His Early OHL Season Success
Matthew Poitras was one of many 2004 born OHL rookies who were robbed of their 16 year old DY-1 season. The former Whitby Wildcat went twelfth overall to the Guelph Storm in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection Draft. He finished his U16 season second in scoring in the ETAHL behind fellow 2022 NHL draft eligible Dalyn Wakely. Poitras captained his Wildcat team and they were regarded as a contender for the 2020 OHL Cup, but sadly the Covid-19 pandemic hit and cancelled the prolific U16 tournament.
Poitras has gotten off to a positive start in his OHL career. He started out by tallying ten points in six preseason games, solidifying a roster spot inside the Storm’s top nine forward group. The offensive production has carried over into season play, as at the time of writing this he has totaled up twenty points in twenty-six games for Guelph. Poitras currently sits in a tie for fourth in both Rookie Scoring and First-Year Draft Eligible Players in the OHL. He has played mostly down the middle for the Storm. Occasionally has been vaulted up the lineup to play on the first line, slotting in the right wing position.
Here at DraftPro Hockey, we have Poitras ranked in spot #41 in our latest fall rankings and has garnered a lot of attention from our OHL scouts. Now, let’s dive into why this player is a top prospect, where his strengths and weaknesses lie, and what tools he can use to have success in the NHL.
*For Reference, Poitras is #14 in either the Maroon or White jerseys for the Guelph Storm.
Puck Retrieval & Work Ethic
The No. 1 thing that you notice when watching Poitras is his play in small-ice and retrieving pucks back. One of his best assets is his ability to win his puck battles and get defenders on his back while he scans and looks for options. He has a disruptive stick which allows him to get underneath to takeaway pucks and cause giveaways. He effectively uses his stick, turning it over and having the toe of his blade pointed down, then coming over top of his opponents stick and pushing his weight down to tie up their stick. Thus, the opposition can’t get a clean first touch on the puck, causing turnovers and making defensive tie ups. He does have a habit of reaching in with his stick when he is beat and needs to be mindful of where his stick is to avoid too many stick infractions.
He plays with high level work ethic and isn’t easy to knock off the puck, showing strong balance and a low center of gravity. He’s able to handle and absorb contact to maintain control of the puck and play off the cycle well, which is a trait he can transfer over to the pro level. Poitras gets in on the forecheck and regularly pressures hard in the attacking zone. He knows he doesn’t have the speed to fly past defenders (more on his skating later) and in result will make smart short dump and chases to get in on the forecheck and gather the puck back.
In the clip below (#14 in Maroon), you see Poitras make an intelligent decision to push the puck forward on his backhand, careful to not aggressively push the Sarnia Sting player into the boards and take a potential boarding penalty. His forecheck causes a giveaway and a good scoring chance for his linemate.
Now in the next two clips you will see how determined of a player Poitras is and how well he handles playing under pressured situations in tight areas and his ability to move the puck in those scenarios.
The clip above shows Poitras making up for his mistake. He makes a poor backhand pass but then pounces on the adjacent mistake made by the defender. He applies the first bit of pressure that doesn’t allow for the Windsor player to get a clean first puck touch. Then, while getting tied up, moves the puck back to his defenceman for a point shot. Why not try it again! Poitras with one defender on his back and another coming to hit him, moves the puck once again to his defenceman for another chance.
After running into the defender at the start of the above clip, Poitras is tenacious in the board battle and fishes the puck out to regain possession for his team. Coming back down the boards, he has a gravitational pull on three defenders that are watching him and closing in as he cuts to the middle before passing it behind the net to his teammate. Lastly, Poitras pops right back up and is ready in front of the net for a return pass but sadly the pass is in his feet. Great example of not giving up on the play and bouncing back up right away after contact.
Despite Poitras’s average size (5’11” & 172lbs) he showcases strong puck protection maneuvers to aid in his control along the perimeter of the offensive zone. He’ll use a free arm to shield away the defender’s hands and freely handles the puck as he surfs on the perimeter. As he enters a glide, he will consistently position the puck into his hip pocket while he scans the ice. He has an unlocked top left hand which allows him to have full range of motion in his puck handling as well as pull pucks around defenders clean with his quick decisive hands.
In the play below, you’ll see Poitras use that toe down technique with his stick to disrupt the defenders pick up of the puck. Then lures the initial defender (#74) in and gets them on his back while performing a quick punch stop, faking a cut back to fake-out the first man. He loads the puck on his forehand and waits for the second defender (#6) to make the first move, then pulls the puck to his backhand to evade them and back to his forehand to allude the third defender. Excellent puck handling skills here.
This is a great showing of deception, decisive hands, and attacking the interior. He ends the clip by getting the secondary assist by not overthinking it and making the smart backhand pass up to the point.
You see a lot of similar abilities here in the clip above. Showing the ability to turn quickly off his edges to give him separation from a defender, notice how his head is constantly up and surveying the ice. This is an aspect of Poitras game that is evident every time he has the puck. While doing that, he has the puck positioned in his hip pocket the entire time and that allows him to perform that quick forehand-backhand maneuver on the up-high forward defender.
Another great example above of Poitras attacking the inside off the boards and having a gravitational pull on the defenders which opened the ice up on the back side for a high-danger scoring chance.
Poitras jumps out of the penalty box here and shows an impressive puck pick up into a pivot that exhibits tidy footwork. The quick hands were unfortunately not enough to beat the goalie, but I love how he was still committed on the play afterwards and was able to swing the puck back out in front where his teammate gets a wraparound chance on.
Playmaking & Passing Game
As I’ve mentioned earlier in the article, Poitras displays terrific habit of constantly shoulder checking and pre-scanning with the puck to find his options. As he enters the zone his head is always up and aware of where his teammates are positioned. One thing that is evident is his intelligent puck management. He will rarely make a poor decision with the puck thanks to his high hockey IQ. He’s a master at passing in small areas, using a variety of passes to connect onto his teammates tape. He is comfortable passing off his backhand, making slip passes, short chip passes, behind the back, and saucer passes.
In the clip below, Poitras scans on his first puck touch in the corner and notices his teammates hovering in the high slot. He identifies the path and stick positioning of his defender and slips a backhand pass underneath his stick and set up a quick scoring chance.
Another example of Poitras here getting the defender’s stick and feet set off the rush and slip passing into the middle for a high-danger chance:
His vision and ability to identify passing lanes both in transition and off an offensive zone setup are excellent. He recognizes spaces in defensive schemes and threads his passes through layers. Having this strength will cater him to playing with skilled linemates, as they trust him to get them the puck and can consistently create shot chances through his passing game and excellent playmaking vision.
Poitras uses the loose gap control the defender gives him in the clip above to operate in the provided space and spots the weak side trailer coming into the play. It’s a tough pass to make but one Poitras can execute regularly.
Then in this next clip, Poitras will get rewarded for the goal. It’s an excellent example of first the commitment in the defensive zone to block the shot, then a sharp pull up at the faceoff circle. Watch his pass perfectly find the lane between three reaching defenders’ sticks and hit his teammate in stride.
I love how he continues to the front of the net after his terrific pass and by doing so gets rewarded with a garbage clean up goal.
Patience is a gift and a skill to delay and catch your opponents off guard and open up passing lanes in the process. Poitras is able to be a step ahead of his opposition due to his fast processing and strong mental skills. This is why his passing game is one of his strongest attributes and a main cog in his ability to create offence.
After he intercepts the play in the neutral zone, his poise takes over and delays his attentions with a sharp cut towards the middle and find the activating defenceman instead of skating forward into a crowded outside lane.
Excellent patience shown in the clip above as he gets the goalie and the defenders scrambling, almost sets up a goal after all his work but I like his mindset to hang onto the puck and look for a high-danger play.
On this clip, most young players would have probably forced the puck back to the crease and hope for a lucky bounce. Poitras instead corrals the puck onto his forehand while the goalie scrambles back into position, smartly feeds his teammate that can one-time the puck into a fairly open net. All created through the poise and intelligent puck management by Poitras.
A quick touch on his awareness as it plays a pivotal part of his strong off puck play, the ability to read plays, anticipate where the puck is going and take smart routes to intercept passes with his stick. This ties into his ability to retrieve pucks back. Poitras has a great habit at getting his stick down flat to the ice to stop the pass as you’ll see in the clip below.
The route he takes sells the defender to think he is about to go up through the middle, but he keeps his stick out to the left of his body ready to cut off the D-to-D reverse pass, then quickly turns his takeaway into a scoring chance. Unfortunately, the pass was just a tad off and gets flubbed.
Areas of Improvement
Now to finally touch on his skating, the biggest area he needs to improve on in my opinion. He is strong on both his outside and inside edges, and his footwork to perform sharp cuts or turns to separate himself from a check are a strength. His forward strides, first step acceleration, and overall speed however are below average and impose as a non-threat in transition. The first glaring issue is how flexed forward his upper body is. He drops his chest and head to the ice as he skates which causes his short stride and pushing out too wide, limiting his forward momentum and explosiveness. A fault to this could be from tight hips. In each stride his hips look locked in position and don’t open up, also causing his stride recoveries to not come back in a circular motion. All of these mechanics play a part in Poitras sluggish first step and lackluster north-south game. Some flexibility training can help correct his tight hips and time with a skating coach should be focused on fixing his flexed forward posture.
Like most young players, Poitras can get stuck on the outside often. He’s a terrific slot passer from the outside, but he won’t often attack the middle and needs to do this more regularly. Especially in transition. Even as the center he’s outside-lane driven on most of his zone entries and attack routes off the rush. Having more confidence to attack the inside-lane is something I hope to see more of and can correct this issue.
And lastly, he’s very much so a pass-first player and doesn’t display either the shooting threat or scoring instincts. The biggest issue with this aspect of his game is finding open ice and soft spots on the interior in defensive structures. In the offensive zone his off puck route selections are either, head to the front of the net or provide close puck support along the wall to keep possession and cycle the puck.
What you get in Matthew Poitras is a competitive small-ice player with strong puck retrieval skills and compete level in the greasy areas. When he gets the puck, his ability to create and produce is blended nicely together by patience, playmaking vision, quick decisive puck handles, and accurate execution in his puck distributing. His style of play will make himself effective at the NHL level due to the fact that he can be the F1 on the forecheck and battle in tight spots to win back possession for his line, then use his brain to precisely thread passes through coverage and create shot chances for his teammates. I can see him as a complementary winger in a top nine role someday. He’s developed into one of the nicer 2022 NHL draft prospects that showcases a solid pro-minded game and I’d expect to hear his name called before the end of the second round.
Photo courtesy of OHL Images