By Alan Avital, Islanders Point Blank
Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is defender Matt Finn, ranked as the 16th best North American skater in the final CSS rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab.
When the Islanders selected Guelph (OHL) defenseman Andrey Pedan in the third round – 63rd pick – of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, they were looking to add some much-needed muscle to a blue line that lacked the beef to compete in the physically-imposing Atlantic Division.
Much to the delight of the organization, the Lithuanian-born Pedan – playing in just his second full season in North America – has adjusted exceedingly well in his unfamiliar surroundings. Off the ice, he has “fit right in”, according to Guelph second-year head coach Scott Walker. On the ice – more importantly – Pedan’s bond with defensive partner Matt Finn has not only elevated the overall play of the 18-year-old Islander prospect, it has also given the 30 NHL scouting departments an important look-see at what many draft prognosticators believe could be the most unheralded defensive prospect to have his name called at this June’s NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh.
“Matt Finn is 17 (turned 18 on February 24) going on 27,” said Guelph second-year general manager Mike Kelly, formerly a professional scout with the Carolina Hurricanes. “He is well above the maturity level of any kid that I have ever come across.
“He came here at 16 years old, and has been our #1 defenseman from day one.”
Born in Toronto, Finn began skating at four, and quickly grew fond of every moment he spent on the ice.
“I grew up watching hockey with my dad,” said Finn, a life-long Toronto Maple Leafs fan and an admirer of former Leaf and Islander defenseman Bryan McCabe. “So for me, when I started to skate, it was a dream come true.”
After honing his talents on neighborhood rinks over the next couple of years, Finn would start playing competitive hockey at age eight. From Minor Adam to ‘AAA’ Hockey, Finn would spend a better part of the next decade developing his skill-set, while playing alongside his closest friends. Ironically, all would cross paths in the Ontario Hockey League.
“Me, (Oshawa Generals center) Scott Laughton, (Erie Otters teammates) Connor Brown (right wing) and Adam Pelech (defenseman), along with my (future) teammate (right winger) Scott Kosmachuk all grew up together,” said Finn. “We all had the same goals and dreams of playing in the NHL.”
In his final season playing for the Toronto Marlboros midget club, the then 15-year-old Finn registered 57 points – 22 goals and 35 assists – in 79 games, paving the way for him to be selected 12th overall by Guelph in the 2010 OHL Priority Selection Draft. Other notable draftees that season included Alex Galchenyuk (first overall – Sarnia), Brendan Gaunce (second overall – Belleville) and childhood bud Laughton (third overall – Oshawa).
The 16-year-old Finn joined the Storm in the fall of 2010, and Kelly quickly took notice of his team’s newest draftee.
“I immediately noticed how self-motivated he was,” said Kelly. “And it was all internal.
“No one had to tell him what to do.”
Paired with Pedan from the onset, Finn was enthused by the instant chemistry shared by the duo.
“Having played with Andrey for a few months, I noticed how well we worked with one another,” said the six-foot, 197-pound Finn. “He’s a little more physical than me, but we definitely complemented each other.”
As a rookie, Finn collected 21 points – three goals and 18 assists – in 60 games. He helped the youthful Storm reach the postseason, eventually bowing out to Saginaw in six games. Finn had three assists in his first postseason.
In the midst of his first season manning 25-to-28 minutes a night, Finn took his winter hiatus off to play for Team Canada-Ontario in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Playing with friends Laughton and Pelech, along with expected 2012 first round picks Gaunce and Plymouth forward Tom Wilson, Team Canada-Ontario defeated Team USA, 5-3 to win the Gold Medal. Finn had a goal in six games.
Motivated from a summer excursion to St. Paul, Minnesota, to watch his partner Pedan being drafted by the Islanders, Finn was battling for a spot on Team Canada’s under-18 team en route to Germany for the World Championships.
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