In the two seasons Denton Mateychuk has been a member of the Moose Jaw Warriors, it’s safe to say that despite his youth, he’s had quite the impact.
The slick puck-moving defenceman has quickly emerged as one of the Western Hockey League’s elite rearguards, to the point the Columbus Blue Jackets made Mateychuk the highest Warrior selection in the NHL Draft in a decade when they selected him in the first round, 12th overall this summer.
With that kind of a pedigree and the kind of leadership he’s shown on the ice, the 18-year-old Winnipeg product is a natural fit for his most recent honour.
The Warriors revealed shortly after Mateychuk’s return that he will serve as the team’s captain for the 2022-23 campaign.
“When you look at everything we want to be about in terms of the effort and compete level and races and battles, that’s Denton Mateychuk to a tee,” Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary said on www.mjwarriros.ca. “He drags guys into the fight, he wants to be great, he wants to be a pro, that’s how he carries himself and I can’t think of any person I’d rather have leading the way than Denton Mateychuk.”
Mateychuk immediately raised eyebrows as a potential standout when he played seven games with Moose Jaw in the 2019-20 season. A year later in the East Division hub, projections of possible stardom began to take hold when he showed poise beyond his years while putting up two goals and nine points in 17 games.
That all led to the 2021-22 campaign and the breakout everyone was expecting -- 13 goals, 64 points in 65 games, another 10 points in 10 playoff games and the East Division nomination for the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s Top Defenceman.
That all led to Mateychuk taking over from AHL-bound Daemon Hunt as the team’s on-ice leader this season.
“It’s a huge honour,” Mateychuk said. “The organization is great and I’ve loved every second I’ve been here and there have been lots of great players who have come through here and wore the ‘C’. So it’s just a great honour.”
Mateychuk plans to carry much the same role as the team captains he saw before him.
“I’m just trying to help the team and show a path to the young guys,” he said. “They’re coming into the league and don’t know what to expect, the same as what I was doing. So I’ll try and give them little pointers and try and get them as comfortable at this level as quick as possible.”
Interestingly enough, that’s much the same situation Mateychuk found himself in only a couple of weeks ago -- the raw rookie taking the ice for the first time with older and more experienced players.
As one might expect, his first taste of the NHL with Columbus was a good one.
“It was an awesome experience,” he said. “They’re competitive and they push you, especially when you’re out there with NHL and AHL guys you’re just trying to be yourself and show the kind of player you are. I just tried to soak everything in and I felt like I did that.”
Like every player moving from the WHL to the best league in the world, adjusting to the speed was a factor, but just one part of the game he picked up on as being more intense.
“Obviously guys are quick, but the biggest thing I noticed is everyone is really smart,” Mateychuk said. “Everyone knows where they have to be and what their job is, and they do it almost to perfection. It’s tough as a defenceman going into that level and not having played a game in a while, so it took a bit of getting used to and it got better at the end.”
Having that first look at the NHL game has given Mateychuk ideas about the future, too -- especially getting another crack at that level.
“It definitely gets you excited for the next step in your career, gives you that little grit to keep pushing and doing what you can to get to that level,” he said.
For now, though, it’s taking what he learned in his few weeks as a professional and putting it to work here in Moose Jaw.
“They said they were happy with my camp and just go back and train like a pro, do everything like a pro,” he said. “Move pucks quick, join in in the right situations all those things. Don’t play to the WHL standard, play like a pro and that’s what I’ve tried to take out of that and put that into play.”
The Warriors are back in action Wednesday night when they host the Saskatoon Blades before taking on the Winnipeg Ice on Saturday night. Both games are 7 p.m. at the Moose Jaw Events Centre.