Leadership can be defined by the behaviour that brings the future to the present, by envisioning the possible, and persuading others to help you make it a reality. Peterborough Petes defenceman Matt Spencer has assumed this role with nearly every team he's ever suited up for. He served as the captain for the OHL Cup winning Oakville Rangers in his minor midget season. He wore an "A" for Team Ontario at the 2014 Under 17's. And he's recently been acting as an alternate for Peterborough since former captain Connor Boland was dealt to Sault Ste. Marie. This responsibility is something Spencer relishes.
Burlington - March 29, 2015 - Leadership can be defined by the behaviour that brings the future to the present, by envisioning the possible, and persuading others to help you make it a reality. Peterborough Petes defenceman Matt Spencer has assumed this role with nearly every team he's ever suited up for. He served as the captain for the OHL Cup winning Oakville Rangers in his minor midget season. He wore an "A" for Team Ontario at the 2014 Under 17's. And he's recently been acting as an alternate for Peterborough since former captain Connor Boland was dealt to Sault Ste. Marie. This responsibility is something Spencer relishes. "I think I'm one of the hardest workers in the OHL period. I know it's just something inside of me that is not going to go away. I think that's going to be big [for my future]. And I always put the team first," says the confident rearguard.
The reality for the Petes right now is that they're fighting to claim one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Last year, the team used a strong final few months to vault into the 6th spot, then carried that momentum to a first round upset over Kingston. Many people (myself included) had high expectations for the Petes this year given their late season performance last year and the projected progression of their young budding stars. But 2014/2015 hasn't exactly gone according to plan for Peterborough. Consistency has been an issue and now they're jockeying for the 7th spot in the Conference. But there have been plenty of positives. In the new calendar year, the team's youngest players are emerging as front line talents. Jonathan Ang has 13 points in his last 17 games. Cameron Lizzote is emerging as a physical force on the back-end. And Spencer's two-way play and leadership on the ice represents that of a future captain.
Throughout the course of this season, Spencer has been consistently mentioned as a candidate to be the top defender eligible from the Ontario Hockey League. The OHL has some quality blueliners available for the 2015 NHL Draft, most of which are putting up some impressive offensive numbers (3 in the top 7 of defenceman scoring). Spencer's not yet at that level as an offensive defender, but that's not something he's overly concerned about. "It hasn't been a huge priority for me this year," he says. "I'm just trying to focus on my defensive game and it seems that the more I focus on that, offense generates from that. I mean obviously it's nice getting a couple more goals and assists, but overall it's how I help the team, how I contribute defensively [that means the most]. Herein lies the reason why Spencer remains a hot commodity for the NHL. Most scouts would agree that Spencer does possess the potential to be an impact defender at both ends, and that it's only a matter of time before he finds himself in the top 10 of defenseman scoring too. After all, he does mention former OHL'er and current NHL all star Alex Pietrangelo as a hopeful comparison.
But Spencer's not perfect and he'd be the first to admit that. "I think [I need to improve upon] making a good first pass out of my zone . And just making sure I'm always on the right guy in the defensive zone. That's something I've been working on throughout year and I think it's come a long way," he says. The reality is that no NHL draft prospect is perfect. The fact that Spencer has identified his areas of concern and has the work ethic to improve them, is going to endear him to NHL scouts. Defenders with his size, skating ability, and potential to impact the game at both ends of the ice rarely make it out of the top 45.
So what's on tap for Matt Spencer the rest of 2015? Peterborough will look to cement its aforementioned playoff spot and hopefully avoid a first round matchup with the powerhouse Oshawa Generals. Should Peterborough's season come to an abrupt end, one would have to consider Spencer a lock to don the red and white for the Under 18's. Spencer's skating ability and tenacity would be a massive asset to Canada on the back-end, where he'd likely be considered for the role of top pairing "shutdown defender." And given his acumen, he's probably a candidate to wear a letter too.
A strong push towards the playoffs and/or a great Under 18's would go a long way to solidifying Spencer's status as a top round pick in 2015. Regardless of how the season concludes for the Petes (as a team), one thing is for certain; the future is very bright for a young team which is bound to be led by the energetic and determined Matt Spencer.
Matt Spencer Q & A
Otten: So Matt first question- you were part of a pretty special Oakville Rangers OHL Cup winning team. Are you still pretty close with some of the guys from that team?
Spencer: Definitely. I try to keep in contact with all my close friends from that team. It was definitely part of my life that was very special, so those relationships really last. Although I'm here in Peterborough and not many guys are near me I'm still trying to keep in touch with them the best I can.
Otten: Okay so when you're going up against some of your Eastern Conference rivals like McKenzie, Craievich, Luff, do you try to get under the skin of those guys a little more? Do you give them an extra shove in the corner? What's that relationship like on the ice?
Spencer: For the most part on the ice it's all business. Obviously we try to give a little below, a tap on the butt every once in a while. For the most part we are both trying to win for our teams. So when it comes down to it it's all business.
Otten: Your first year in the league had a some ups and downs. Obviously you improved a lot as the year went on. What was the biggest adjustment for you going into the OHL from minor midget?
Spencer: Most likely the speed and physicality of the OHL. Obviously players are a lot bigger and a lot faster, so that's a big thing. In terms of skill it wasn't a huge jump. I mean, it was something that I more expected so I was ready for that, but the biggest thing was the speed.
Otten: So how did you prepare for this coming year knowing that it'd be your NHL draft year?
Spencer: Well it started in the summer. I worked really hard throughout the summer trying to get ready for the season. I brought a real positive attitude to the training camp in the early stages of this year. I knew it was gonna be a big year. I mean really preparation from last summer and all the way through til now has been huge.
Otten: So tell me about the gold metal experience at the Ivan Hlinka.
Spencer: It was an unforgettable time. I mean having Jody [Hull] there as well as coach was a real big help to me. He knows how I play and what I'm about so I think that I greatly benefited from that. There was a great group of guys there and I am glad that we were able to win
Otten: So obviously the first priority for you is playing in the playoffs with Peterborough but does the idea of playing international tournaments again in the summer or down the road sit in the back of your mind as exciting (such as the upcoming U18's)?
Spencer: Well whenever the world juniors roll around that's always something I enjoy watching so maybe being able to play for that team one day would be huge. But in terms of right now I'm just trying to focus on the rest of the season and the playoffs like you mentioned.
Otten: So your offensive numbers have really improved this year- is that something you wanted to improve upon specifically?
Spencer: I think that's something that every player wants to improve on. But it hasn't been a huge priority for me this year. I'm just trying to focus on my defensive game and it seems that the more I focus on that offense generates from that. I mean obviously it's nice getting a couple more goals and assists. Overall it's how I help the team, how I contribute there [defensively].
Otten: On the same wave length, what are your biggest strengths and assets from the perspective of an NHL scout?
Spencer; I think my skating and my defensive ability. And I think I'm a really good two-way defenceman. But more importantly I'm able to shut down top offensive guys on the other team. But I'm still an offensive presence in the offensive zone.
Otten: Conversely what's your biggest weakness/area in need of improvement?
Spencer: Right now I think it's making a good first pass out of my zone . And just making sure I'm always on the right guy in the defensive zone. That's something I've been working on throughout year and I think it's come a long way.
Otten: So right now there's a battle for the top OHL defender taken in the upcoming NHL draft. Obviously some big names out there like Vande Sompel, Dermott, Dunn, etc. Why should an NHL team pick you first in that group of OHL defencemen?
Spencer: I think I'm one of the hardest workers in the OHL period. SO I think that's something I'd bring to any NHL team. I know its just something inside of me that is not going to go away. I think that's going to be big. And I always put the team first, so that's also another huge asset.
Otten: Is there an NHL player you might emulate your game after? You know a guy you look at and say that's a guy I really want to be compared to?
Spencer: I'd say Alex Pietrangelo of the St Louis Blues. He's a real solid puck mover. Just real sound in all areas of the ice.
Otten: Who's the toughest forward to stop in the OHL? The guy who gives you the toughest time in the defensive zone?
Spencer: I'd say it's a tie between McDavid and Josh Ho-Sang. I mean obviously McDavid is incredibly fast. But when we play him I always try to contain him the best I can I've done a pretty good job of that this year. Ho-Sang is just pretty crafty and you never know what he's going to do.
Thanks a ton to Matt Spencer and Burton Lee of the Peterborough Petes for taking the time out of their busy schedule to make this story/Q&A happen.
To read more from Brock Otten, please visit OHLProspects.blogspot.ca