The 2015 NHL draft features some talented young defense, with the likes of Noah Hanifin, Oliver Kylington and Zack Werenski all expected to go in the top ten in June. As strong as the group may be at the top, there may only be four Canadian blue liners with a realistic chance at hearing their names called in the first round. While that might be so, that doesn’t mean Canada’s group of blue liners aren’t going to be strong, and that’s exactly why Matt Spencer could be a special defenseman by the time teams go selecting their future talents.
Spencer grew up playing in the Oakville Minor Hockey Association, the same organization that New York Islanders Star John Tavares and Colorado Avalanche prospect Spencer Martin participated in during their young hockey days. Spencer was the captain of the Oakville Rangers Minor Midget AAA team that won gold at the 2013 OHL Cup, the same stacked team that featured fellow 2015 draft eligible forwards Matt Luff of the Belleville Bulls and Brett McKenzie of the North Bay Battalion.
From there, Spencer was given a three game stint with the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. Spencer wasn’t given much playing time with the Junior A club, but he sure was impressive enough in the limited time he was given. A few months later, he was drafted third overall by the Peterborough Petes during the 2013 OHL Draft, with only future NHL stars Dylan Strome and Travis Konecny going higher.
This past August, Spencer helped Team Canada to their seventh straight consecutive gold medal at the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup. This came after finishing his first OHL season with the Petes, where he showed a ton of potential despite while patrolling the Petes blue line.
Among Spencer’s many strengths is his ability to move the puck better than most defensemen in his draft class. He rarely makes mistakes with the forward pass, making him a formidable offensive blue-liner when needed. He still needs to work on his overall offensive ability, however, but his ability to change directions quickly and out-skate his opponents at ease has served him well so far in his short OHL career. Whenever the play begins heading towards the offensive zone, Spencer seems to always be able to keep up and chip in up close if needed to.
At 6’2, 185 lbs, Spencer could still add a bit of size before transitioning into an NHL defenseman in the future. While he does need work in that department, Spencer plays a big style game by controlling many plays in the defensive zone by forcing his opponents to the perimeter. Once he gets you out there, he’ll more then likely make you pay for finding your way into the offensive zone by flattening you out, making him a scary defenseman to mess with.
Spencer has a good chance of being selected on the first day of the 2015 NHL Draft. He was most recently projected as the 23rd selection by ISS Hockey and has even been mentioned as high as 20th by McKeen’s Hockey. Spencer won’t likely rush into the NHL right away, but his potential seems like it could rise to make him one of the best defensive prospects in the game. We’ll have to wait until June to find out where the Petes defenseman lands, but expect a solid team later in the first round to pick up Spencer in an attempt to bolster their defensive depth for the long run.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter@StevenEllisNHL.