This season, in his second go-round, saying he did a bit better also would be an understatement. Hackett rose from the list of the undrafted to the top spot in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goaltenders for the 2009 Entry Draft.
"Last year I was a nervous wreck," Hackett told NHL.com. "Before games and stuff I'd be shaking just knowing scouts were in the stands. This year I came in just relaxed and said doesn’t matter, I'm just going to play my game and let whatever happens happen. Definitely went better."
The numbers bear that out. Hackett started 2007-08 with the Windsor Spitfires, but went 1-1 with a 4.61 goals-against average and .855 save percentage. Windsor traded him to the Plymouth Whalers, but he didn't fare much better, going 6-9-0-1 with a 3.44 GAA and .900 save percentage in 18 games as the backup to Nashville Predators prospect Jeremy Smith.
Hackett spent the summer in Colorado training with his uncle, former NHL goaltender Jeff Hackett, who at the time was the goaltending coach for the Avalanche.
"My whole life he's been my idol," Hackett said. "He showed me how hard it is to get to the next level and how hard they train. … Seeing how hard they work is unbelievable. To train with them and playing against them, the speed is a lot quicker, and then coming back to the OHL this year, it felt like the game slowed down a lot for me. I felt more relaxed. Complete new game."
Hackett played so well that the Whalers traded Smith and handed him the top job. He went 34-15-3 with a 3.04 GAA, .913 save percentage and two shutouts.
"Just a huge improvement over last year," Central Scouting's Al Jensen told NHL.com. "Great potential, got very good size, very poised. His angles and his net positioning are very good. He's a very smart goaltender. Excellent net coverage. … He's got great size, he's got mental toughness, he's able to win the big games. He's got the good NHL style. He plays big, he's got quick feet, he plays big even when he goes down to his butterfly. He reads the play very well. He's very smart."
Jeff Hackett can empathize with his nephew's draft situation. He went unselected as an 18-year-old in 1986, but the next year he was a second-round pick of the New York Islanders and went on to a 15-season NHL career with six teams.
"I wanted to expose him to the next level, the top level you can get to and that's the NHL," Jeff Hackett told NHL.com. Hackett arranged for Matthew to work with two Avalanche veterans, forward Ian Laperriere and goalie Peter Budaj.
"He went and ran Red Rocks Park and trained with Ian just for a week," said Hackett. "He's watching a guy like Ian who's in the League and accomplished a lot and still driving himself to be better."
Matthew saw some of the same thing on the ice when he worked with Budaj.
"Peter is the same type of kid -- day in and day out works very hard, very conscious of what he's trying to do, and he (Matthew) saw the preparation," Jeff Hackett said. "This is the middle of August and he saw an NHL goalie putting in the work and doing all the stuff that I have taught him over the years. Realizing it isn't the most exciting stuff but he realizes how important it is. It's very valuable to see what it's like. Knowing that its not just talk, this is how you have to work. The week to 10 days he spent in Colorado not only gave him confidence because he was training at a high level, it really showed him what he has to do for the rest of his career."
One other bit of advice passed from uncle to nephew is that this is the first step -- the progressions need to continue.
"It's a big jump to the next level," Jeff Hackett said. "The puck-handling, the strength, they're all coming now. They just have to get to the next level. It's going to take some experience and going through some tough times. His game's not fully developed, but it's getting close and closer to being technically complete."
"Last year I was a nervous wreck. Before games and stuff I'd be shaking just knowing scouts were in the stands. This year I came in just relaxed and said doesn’t matter, I'm just going to play my game and let whatever happens happen. Definitely went better." -- Matthew Hackett
At 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, Hackett still needs to get physically stronger, but he's already reaping the benefits of his 2008-09 performance. He was one of four goaltenders invited to Canada's National Junior Team development camp in August, which means he's in the running to be Canada's goalie for the 2010 World Junior Championship.
Then there's also the point of pride that comes with his standing in the draft ranks.
"It's pretty nice," Matthew Hackett said. "It's exciting. Last year getting passed over, I came into this year with a chip on my shoulder to prove that I should have been drafted. Being No. 1 is pretty nice."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.