Florida Panthers prospect Michael Matheson shows his smarts in college

 

Panthers 2012 first-round draft pick Michael Matheson’s decision to take time and develop steadily at the college level is paying off.

 
Michael Matheson, 23rd overall pick by the Florida Panthers, poses on stage during Round One of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center on June 22, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Michael Matheson, 23rd overall pick by the Florida Panthers, poses on stage during Round One of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center on June 22, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

dneal@MiamiHerald.com

The one defense prospect the Panthers know they won’t be seeing this season is 2012 first-round pick Michael Matheson. Not because of the organization’s patience. Because of Matheson’s.

Though he grew up in Montreal, surrounded by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Matheson decided against taking the road most traveled for Canadians with NHL hopes: junior hockey.

“I thought that, especially as a defenseman, it takes longer to develop and it buys you a bit of time,” he said. “I’m in no rush. Being in college, I can take the time to develop. I have time to get into the gym. As people know, we play fewer games. We have more time to work out. I have more time to practice and let my game and body mature.”

Which is how the Canadiens fan wound up in the Bruins’ town by way of a United States Hockey League season in Dubuque, Iowa. Matheson, a 19-year-old psychology major, will be back at Boston College for his sophomore season after leading all NCAA freshmen defensemen in scoring with eight goals and 25 points.

But it was during the 2010-11 season at Dubuque, where he wouldn’t have been without eschewing juniors, that Matheson thinks things really got going in the right direction for him.

“The first half of the year was a struggle for me,” he said. “I learned a lot under [head] coach [Jim] Montgomery and [associate head] coach Joe [Combs] in Dubuque that helped me a lot in my success at the end of the year, being drafted by Florida and ultimately having a better year as a freshman at BC.”

For college, Matheson wanted to stay close to Montreal. The University of Vermont made his final four (there’s a part of Vermont that adores hockey with Canadian fervor). But Matheson had an affinity for the city of Boston, which put Boston University and Northeastern in his final group along with BC.

The Golden Eagles went 22-14-4 last season, closing with losses in the Hockey East tournament to BU and the NCAA tournament to Union.

“It was possibly the team where I was closest with the most people on a given team,” Matheson said. “In past years, I’ve been close with certain guys, but with this team, everyone was so close. It was a really good experience.”

Said Panthers manager of player development and former longtime NHL defenseman Bryan McCabe: “He’s a great skater, everyone knows that. He’s just got to mature and get some more experience. As a freshman at BC, he played a lot of minutes. He had a great season. This year, we’re looking for him to hopefully make the [Canadian] World Junior Championships team. It would be a great experience for him to play internationally.

Like fellow defense prospect Alexander Petrovic, Matheson wants to add size, just not too much.

“I think I’m around 190 [pounds] right now,” Matheson said. “I think a good weight for me to play at next year is 195. I don’t need to be huge. My game is about speed.”

• The Panthers will be back on the ice at 9 a.m. Thursday at Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs after spending Wednesday working out, then playing volleyball in South Beach before attending the Marlins game.

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