Samuelsson using size, pedigree to develop into top prospect
NTDP defenseman improving offensive game, learning from father Kjellby Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2018 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Defenseman Mattias Samuelsson of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team got help developing into a top prospect for the 2018 NHL Draft from a very close source.
His father, Kjell Samuelsson, was a defenseman for 14 seasons in the NHL and is in his fifth season as development coach for the Philadelphia Flyers.
"We have father/son talks like any other relationship, but there's other times where it's business and he'll act like I'm one of his players, tell me what I'm doing wrong or what I need to do better," Mattias said. "I know it's out of pure love so I don't take offense by any of it. I know it's good for my career."
So far, it's been good enough to earn Mattias the No. 17 spot on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters.
"He utilizes his size (6-foot-3, 217 pounds) as a strength," director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "Defensively he stands out. He understands the role. He plays within his means. He moves well for his size, he doesn't over-handle the puck. He does know how to utilize his size asset and he does know how to utilize it within the rules. He doesn't go out of his way to run guys, hit guys. His 1-on-1 game, he makes sure he handles his checks. On the defensive side of the puck he's responsible with it."
Samuelsson also is continuing to develop his offensive game. He's second among NTDP defensemen with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 34 games.
"His numbers offensively have increased quite a bit here in the last couple months," NTDP coach Seth Appert said. "Lot of that is from aggressively gapping and learning how good he can be at it. Because if you have to break the puck out from your own zone, generally speaking that's tough to go 200 feet and scoring goals. Break up plays in neutral zone through your defensive gaps and your stick and your backchecking, lots of times those neutral-zone turnovers can transition to odd-man rushes the other way.
"What he's done a really good job of in the last couple months is challenging his gap, his footwork, shutting pucks down in the neutral zone and then transitioning the puck to our forwards and activating into the rush."
Samuelsson prides himself on his two-way ability and said he tries to pattern his game after Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.
"He's a big (6-6, 223), mobile guy, a two-way guy, he was up for the Norris Trophy," Samuelsson said. "He's a great defenseman. If I can take anything from his game and put it in mine, it's to my advantage."
He also takes a bit from his father, who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 1992 as a 6-6, 235-pound defensive-minded defenseman.
"I get my competitive level from him," Mattias said. "The game was different back then. Not sure you can compare much. I think we compete the same way and we both definitely hate losing."
Samuelsson has been smart about how he uses that competitive level. Appert said he plays a hard, physical game but is smart about using that physicality.
"You ask forwards in the [United States Hockey League], they certainly know how physical he is," Appert said. "He's a physical player, he's hard to play against. He's not a defenseman that goes for a big hit at the expense of making the right play. He just gets into you and lets you know you're going against him when the time is right."
Samuelsson is committed to continuing his development at Western Michigan University next season, but Appert is confident that he will follow his father into the NHL.
"Mattias Samuelsson is going to be a top-three defenseman on some NHL team for the next 15-plus years," Appert said. "He's going to eat minutes, he's going to help you win and he's going to be miserable to play against."