(Nashville Predators)

Matthew Wood is going to the Nashville Predators.

The Lethbridge, Alberta native (who played his minor hockey in Nanaimo) was selected 15th overall in the NHL Entry Draft, and will join a Predators organization that is starving for high end talent.

“Let’s not be safe,” new general manager Barry Trotz said on the 32 Thoughts podcast prior to the draft.

“I said to our scouts: we have 13 picks in this draft, swing for the fences. I’d rather have a game changer than play it safe.”

Wood is certainly a swing for the fences.

He’s produced significant offense at every level he’s played at, posting one of the highest scoring seasons by a 16-year-old in the BCHL ever for the Victoria Grizzlies two years ago with 45 goals and 85 points in just 46 games.

He won Rookie of the Year that season.

Though he was drafted alongside his buddy Connor Bedard to the Regina Pats (they played a year together in the West Van Academy Bantam Prep team in 2019-20), he preferred the college route. He figured by playing less games, there would be more time to practice and get stronger in the gym.

The 6’4 forward played this past season at the University of Connecticut as the youngest player in college hockey.

It took Wood some time to get used to playing against older and stronger competition, scoring a respectable 5 goals and 14 points in his first 17 games. Over the back half of the season, however, Wood took his game to another level and finished with 6 goals and 20 points over those final 16 games while being held off the scoresheet just twice in that span.

He finished with 11 goals and 34 points in 35 games, an excellent season for a player yet to be drafted.

The former Nanaimo Clipper is described as a player with quick hands and a lethal shot, but one that needs to improve his acceleration and compete level.

Scott Wheeler of The Athletic is one of their NHL prospect writers, and had Wood ranked 10th on his pre-draft list.

“One of my favourites from the 2005 age group these last two years… he stepped right into college hockey to become an impactful player and eventually the leading scorer on a good UConn team,” said Wheeler.

“Wood is a rangy, goal scoring forward who has really silky hands for his size, a marksman’s shot, and a sixth sense for arriving around the net/slot at the right time… Though he still needs to get quicker from a standstill, his skating isn’t an issue for me on the whole and when he keeps his feet moving in puck protection he draws a ton of penalties.”

Corey Pronman, another prospect writer for The Athletic, is a bit lower on him. He had him ranked 14th.

“Wood is a very gifted offensive player. He has excellent one-on-one skills and offensive IQ. He also has an excellent wrist shot and one-timer, making him a major asset on the power play… however, his skating is an issue as he lacks the ability to separate and the pace of the NHL will challenge him,” said Pronman. 

“I wouldn’t call him an overly physical or high compete type, and I’ve seen him take nights off. I think he’ll be a quality top six winger who will be a big part of an NHL power play, but he may frustrate his coaches at times.”

You can expect Wood to return to the University of Connecticut for his sophomore season, where he’ll be expected to work on his foot speed and skating. If that is indeed his path, Wood could be in for a dominant season.

Wood joins the Predators organization at a time of major transition. David Poile is the only general manager they’ve ever had in their 25 year existence, and is set to retire. He’ll be succeeded by former long-time coach Barry Trotz.

They’ve also spent the last four months deconstructing pieces of their roster in hopes of introducing a new wave of talent. They just traded Ryan Johansen to the Colorado Avalanche a few days ago.

And they shipped out three middle six wingers in Tanner Jeannot, Mikael Granlund, and Nino Niederreiter, at the trade deadline, as well as a top pairing defenceman in Mattias Ekholm. 

Though they still have stars in Jusse Saros, Filip Forsberg, and Roman Jos on the roster, it’s clear the Predators are looking to get younger and retool on the fly.

If all goes well, Wood will eventually become a big part of that.

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