On a bus last week somewhere outside the city of Bratislava, Slovakia, Shawn Matthias
turned to a teammate on Canada’s National Junior Team and asked, “Where are we right now?”
It seemed an appropriate questions for Matthias, one of several Panther prospects playing in the World Junior Championships beginning Dec. 26 in the Czech Republic.
Since February, the world of Shawn Matthias
has been in constant motion. He was traded from Detroit to Florida, chosen to represent Canada in the World Juniors, signed a contract with the Panthers, and has won raves from USA Today and The Hockey News.
And best of all? He’s gotten phone calls from Panthers’ special assistant Joe Nieuwendyk.
“It seems crazy that Joe Nieuwendyk is calling me,” Matthias, 19, said. “It’s pretty intimidating. I mean, I remember him playing for the Leafs and in Dallas. I haven’t told him this, but I play the calls for my parents. He’s become a big celebrity in our house.”
Drafted by the Red Wings in the second round (47th overall) of the 2006 Entry Draft, Matthias came to the Panthers on Feb. 27 as part of the deal that sent Todd Bertuzzi to Detroit. At the time, GM and coach Jacques Martin made it clear Matthias was a key part of the trade, calling him a player of “high character who possesses great speed with a scoring touch.”
Not a lot has changed in the 10 months since Matthias became a Panther. Playing in Belleville this season in the Ontario Hockey League, Matthias is fourth in the league in scoring with 19 goals and 56 points. It comes a year after scoring 38 goals in 2006-07 and leading the team with 13 goals in the playoffs.
“We feel Shawn will make an impact in Florida in the near future,” said Martin after signing him earlier this month to an entry-level contract. “He has been very successful in junior hockey and now Shawn is ready to take the next step to professional hockey.”
Martin isn’t the only one thinking this way about the 6-4, 213-pound native of Mississauga, Ontario.
The Hockey News recently named Matthias one of its ‘Can’t Wait to See’ NHL players, and USA Today wrote; “Although Florida fans had never heard of Matthias when the Panthers acquired him for Bertuzzi, it seems fairly certain they will see him in Florida’s lineup in a couple of seasons.”
While riding the bus from Slovakia to the Czech Republic, the 6-4, 213-pound native of Mississauga, Ont., said, “There’s been a lot of good things happening and it’s been exciting.” But in the same breath, Matthias added, “But I’m hungry to do better.”
“All these things are nice, but if you’re not performing well you’re not helping yourself out,” he said. “It was nice to get a contract, but if I don’t play well I’m not going to be help myself or my team.”
After attending the Panthers’ rookie camp in September, he was invited to the main training camp and even played in a few preseason games before being sent back to Belleville. Despite being the longest of longshots to make the team at 19, Matthias took the cut to heart. Although he was with the team for a very short time, he showed a lot to the Panther front office, including Nieuwendyk.
“He really took getting cut from our team and being sent back to juniors hard,” Nieuwendyk said. “You like to see that in a kid. You know, he really cares. I think this World Junior thing is going to be great for him. He’s playing well, he’s working hard, and he’s right on schedule in terms of what everyone here expects from him.”
Matthias said working with the Panthers those few weeks was an “eye-opening experience.”
“Playing with guys like Bo (Jay Bouwmeester) and Olli (Jokinen), it makes you realize how much better you have to be, how much quicker and stronger,” Matthias said.
Matthias is hoping to continue his improvement this week at the World Juniors and Team Canada.
“It’s an honor every time you play for your country,” said Matthias on the bus shortly after scoring two goals and adding an assist in an exhibition game against Slovakia. “Hopefully, we can continue improving as a team and we can make everyone proud.”