He has what teams want in a power forward and the Los Angeles Kings are certainly no exception. His 6′ 2 frame mixed in with his combative style makes Matt Mistele a can’t-miss prospect for the Kings. Plus, not being selected until the sixth round in 2014, many would argue that the Kings drafted themselves a hidden gem. The Kings, though, actually have very little to lose and a lot to gain with Mistele.
In this his fifth and final season of major-junior hockey, the 20-year-old forward will be moving on to the next level in the fall, but where that will be remains to be seen. Currently, Mistele is paying immediate dividends for the OHL‘s Sarnia Sting — the club he was traded to in December. In 19 games with the Sting thus far, Mistele already has 18 points (10 goals, eight assists) and has impressed his coaching staff with a vengeance.
Recently, I spoke with Sarnia assistant Chris Lazary, who has been feeling especially excited about their team’s championship chances since Mistele’s arrival.
“Ever since Matty’s come over in the trade from Oshawa, he’s been a huge addition both on and off the ice,” Lazary noted. “Definitely has a presence about him. He’s a hard worker and he’s very good with his teammates. His abilities affect his game as he’s able to put himself in good areas on the ice which really helps create a lot of turnovers. He’s kind of got that pure goal-scorer shot to him and he’s playing with some pretty good linemates.”
“He’s getting a lot of the pucks in a lot of good areas in the offensive zone and I think he’s battled with that a lot. So, he’s definitely been more than what we’ve asked of what we got in the trade but I think since we made the trade, his play with linemates has been pretty phenomenal and he’s always playing with skilled guys. I think with his shot and his skill, he’s going to keep putting points up.”
The Sting are Mistele’s third junior club. When he was drafted by the Kings, he was with the Plymouth Whalers where he totaled 139 points in 159 games after his rookie season. Late last season, though, the Whalers traded Mistele to the Oshawa Generals who were looking to make a serious push for the OHL Championship, the J. Ross Robertson Cup. His 13 goals and 16 points in 21 playoff games helped the Generals not only win the OHL crown but the Memorial Cup, Canada’s most prestigious prize in junior hockey. Of the reasons for Mistele’s acquisition, his contributions towards said Memorial Cup win were front-and-center for the Sting.
“Yeah, that’s a huge part of why we brought him in,” Lazary said. “We wanted to feel like we can win this year. We knew we wanted to make a few big moves leading up to our deadline, which we did, and the very first move, we wanted to acquire a guy with Matty’s background.
“You look at last year, Oshawa acquired the same thing. The ability to win a championship in Oshawa both in the OHL and the Memorial Cup. We’re also close to doing that this year, We wanted to acquire that experience in our lineup and I think that goes a long way.”
But there was more to Mistele’s acquisition than his championship pedigree.
“It’s interesting since he’s come in, the little things in a game,” Lazary continued. “If a game gets tight, he stands up, goes on on the bench and in the dressing room and reminds guys of the little things they have to do to win and to be a winner, and I think that’s setting really off in our group. He’s been huge like that. He’s been everything that we’ve asked for. We’re leaning on his experience both from a coaching staff in terms of asking questions about what certain situations are like with our players.”
Sarnia head coach Derian Hatcher had no issues echoing Lazary’s sentiments either.
“Matt has made a tremendous impression on us,” Hatcher told me. “We brought him in to help score goals and he has given us a lot more than that. He has been a leader both on the ice and off the ice. He has been really good with are young players as well. His experience last year is invaluable to us. Matt is an L.A.-type of player and I can see him fitting in the Kings organization soon.”
Even Kings Director of Player Development Nelson Emerson is excited about seeing more of the 20-year-old.
“Matt is a definite threat every time he enters the offensive zone and has a real scorers touch,” Emerson noted. “We look forward to watching him in the playoffs with the Sting.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, Lazary ran down everything that makes Matt Mistele a solid asset for any team, including the Kings. Lazary also pointed out one of Mistele’s most glaring weaknesses, his skating. He was, however, surprised by one thing.
“I’ll be honest, I’m surprised [Mistele] doesn’t have a contract now,” Lazary pointed out. “He’s a big body in terms of NHL size. He’s got the size, he’s got the physical tools. He definitely has the ability to score. There’s a lot to his game. I’d like to see his skating obviously get a little faster at the National Hockey League level for a fast team. He can’t skate fast but to be able to go out on a shift and play with a lot of pace for 30 or 40 seconds is something he’s working on now. I’m confident that if he keeps playing the way he’s playing that he’s really going to have a tough decision to make whether he signs a contract or goes as a free agent. We’re hoping that all his hard work and efforts pay off.
“He does have the opportunity to win in a place like the American League and ultimately the NHL, but he will score and we look forward to watching him do that.”
Hopefully for the Los Angeles Kings, they will get to see Matt Mistele hone his craft first-hand not only next fall at training camp but beyond as well. His junior career has already helped to establish the 20-year-old as a reliable power forward, but what happens at the pro level remains to be seen. Still, if his career thus far has been any indication, than Matt Mistele’s pro career will be too exciting to ignore.