As we continue to cover possible draft picks for the Panthers, some questions have emerged that must be considered, such as whether the team is looking for a player who can contribute soon, or whether the Cats are content to take a player with a higher top-end potential that will take time to get to. With a late first round pick, and now a follow on 2nd round pick (via the Gudbranson trade), it is possible the team could aim in both places at the same time. Regardless, with the contract structures, and NHL team make-up as it presently stands, the Panthers will need to start making their push, and that makes this first round selection extremely important.
We have been clear, here at LBC, that we expect the Cats to use this valuable first round pick on a wing that can contribute in the mid-term, more so than the long term. With that understanding, we'd expect the team to draft a player already in juniors or the NCAA, and Mitch Mattson does not fit that bill. But Mattson's skill set, and more importantly, his size, mandate a serious look anyway.
Mattson is yet another big forward, coming in at 6'4" and almost 200 lbs. He split time last season between his USHL team- the expansion Bloomington Thunder, and his high school in Minnesota- the legendary Grand Rapids High School (coached by Grand Rapids Alum Trent Klatt- who played over 700 NHL games). He was one of the 10-finalists for the Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award in 2016 (an award won by both Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau). He was also invited to, and played in the 2015 All-American prospects game.
Next season Mattson will attend the University of North Dakota, which will lose a big chunk of their offensive firepower to NHL free agency this summer. Whether this means that Mattson will be given additional ice time remains to be seen (and earned), but there is no doubt he is starting to come into his own. One scouting service described him this way:
Big and really can skate well., and advances the puck well. Displays a strong stride, nice passing skills, and is committed to playing a 200 foot game. Needs to build his underdeveloped frame. Looks like he might rpoject as the big cntre teams look for. Committed to the University of North Dakota.
Another scouting report also noted his more recent uptick:
Mattson is a long-bodied pivot who continues to add lower (and upper) body strength. The term can get thrown around a lot but he has a serious upside. He looks to be the next big star out of the legendary Grand Rapids high school program. He’s able to make a sharp play in stride under duress with a 6’3 frame and does a good enough job protecting the puck in tight areas to create opportunities for himself or teammates on a consistent basis.
Still, Mattson is more of a raw talent that is being projected to be an impact player:
"He’s only really coming into what he’s going to be now with his body and it looks like it could be unbelievable. He will be one to watch for sure in a couple years."
Ranked 61st for North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, he has also been projected as a possible end of 1st round pick. The 2nd round pick from Vancouver may fit here quite well.
Does he fit in Florida?
Most mock drafts have Mattson being taken anywhere from the end of the 1st round to the early 3rd round. With his size and ability, as well as a projection to play on the wing, Mattson has many of the attributes the Panthers are looking for. Still, as we noted in the Tage Thompson draft report, the Panthers are weak at wing in the prospect pool, but more so on the right side. As we noted then:
Lawson Crouse is a left wing, as are Quinton Howden, Juho Lammikko, Kyle Rau, and Connor Brickley. Jayce Hawryluk shoots right handed, as does Rocco Grimaldi, but the Cats are thin at right wing.
The Panthers will still need help on the left wing, but not as badly as they do on the right. Mattson is a bit more of a project than several of the other wings we have looked at in this series, but his upside looks very strong and he will play at a powerhouse NCAA program known for developing NHL-level talent. As a big forward who can play the wing, he fits the Panthers. The question will be whether another player fits better at Florida's draft position.