Continuing on with our post-draft coverage (check out interviews with Dave Lowry on Vladimir Bobylev and Jack Walker here, and Marc Crawford on Auston Matthews here), MLHS chatted with Danton Cole, coach of J.D. Greenway, Joseph Woll and previously Auston Matthews with the U.S. National Team Development Program.
Could you describe J.D. Greenway’s game in a little detail for us?
Danton Cole: He’s a big, physical defenceman. His game has come along way. I think certain things about him are pretty underrated. He ended up with 27 or 28 points for us, which is pretty good for a defenceman. I know Adam Fox had the 59 points this year so that kind of skews things, but if you look at Trouba or Jones in their last years, they were right around there or a little bit north of it. He’s a big, physical guy. I think he keeps it pretty simple. He played with Clayton Keller’s line quite a bit, and I think he understood his job was to get the puck moving forward.
Good first pass?
Cole: Outstanding, and it got better and better over the two years. It was smart and it was quick. He found out, like a lot of defencemen, that he could hold it a little longer. He started to figure out that if he got it and moved it that a lot of good things happen offensively. At the Under-18 World Championships, he was +16 in our seven games there. He wasn’t on the ice for one goal against. He had probably the top assignments every game and was killing a ton of penalties as well. That was outstanding. Plus, he had seven points in seven games. I look at where guys end up in the draft, and value wise I think that was a great pick. I think, in a couple of years, as he keeps developing at Wisconsin with the coaches there – Mark Osiecki has done a great job with a lot of young D – you’ll look at him and think it’s a first-round draft pick. I think, with his mental progress – which sometimes comes quick, sometimes takes a while and sometimes doesn’t happen until guys leave – a lot of things kicked in for J.D. in the last half of the season. It really accelerated his learning and also his efficiency and understanding of the game. When you see that kick in, and you see guys start to move down that line in understanding how things connect, it’s a wonderful thing. He kicked into that and his game just took off from there. It was a lot of fun to see that happen.
You guys were knocked out by Finland in that tournament. Did he play up against Jesse Puljujarvi then?
Cole: As much as we could, we either had his line or Ryan Lindgren and Luke Martin against that line. We tried to keep Adam Fox and J.D. with Keller and sometimes we were trying to get that matchup away. He ended up with his fair share against him, but not exclusively.
Scouting reports suggest that he’ll flash moments of skill with a good offensive rush now and then but it’s not a consistent part of his game yet. Is that a fair assessment?
Cole: I think if you look over the whole two years or over the whole year, probably. I think that’s also 99% of the 17-year-old defencemen in the world. But, again, that consistency from January 1st to now was outstanding. I think that’s correct over the total amount of time he spent with us here, but when it comes to a lot of things coming together towards the end and in big moments, it might be shortsighted.
He was a bit of a late-bloomer as the season was progressing? He got stronger as the season went along?
Cole: We get them when they’re 15 or 16. We’re not talking about a guy who is 25 and in the NHL where you say, “where was this guy the last seven years?” I think his progress was good and steady and it just accelerated when a lot of things kicked in mentally. Physically, it kind of came together. That’s what we’re looking for. I think some teams maybe saw him early and might’ve had a perspective on him, but we want to see these guys get better and continue to learn. We look at the specimen he is as a physical guy and it all starts to come together. That’s an incredible defenceman.
He looks like quite a skater.
Cole: One of the funnest parts of watching a game is when J.D. starts coming down the hallway and jumps out on the ice. He gets around the ice in about three or four strides. His feet are good, his edges are good. In the weight room, he’s excellent.
What does he have to work on now to get up to the next level?
Cole: I don’t want to sound too boilerplate here, but a lot of the defencemen need to work on the same things. I think, with some of the stuff we talked about earlier, it’s just continuing to clean up his game offensively and making that pass crisp and right away. I think that the consistency of his intensity really picked up. When he plays like that, with purpose, that’s when he’s at his best. As he matures, he has to make sure he’s always on with that. I think, with his physicality, he was starting to really figure out that there’s a good time to close and peel a guy off and get a big hit in, and there’s also a time where it’s not the right time. He was kind of figuring that out. J.D. can have an influence the game and he can put doubt in the other team’s mind when they see a big guy like that who skates that well. That’s daunting sometimes to line up against. Overall, it’s just the knowledge of the position and the subtleties of playing D. Once you see the physical capabilities, if the learning aspect is there, the sky is the limit. I think he’s in a good place with that.
What kind of goalie is Joseph Woll?
Cole: He’s 6’3, probably 200 or 210, or around there somewhere. He’s got almost the perfect size for what you’re looking for right now. Joe is extremely athletic. He’s probably one of the best athletes on our team in terms of strength and conditioning. I think he showed that at the combine and tested out really well. The other day there was three or four times during a drill or a scrimmage or a live play where he’d make a save where you go, “wow, that kid shouldn’t have made that save.” He got from point A to point B so quick. He’s probably one of the most athletic and quickest guys that I’ve had. I think John Gibson was certainly that way when he was here as well as Thatcher Demko. Some of the same types of reactions in practice and the work ethic. I think technically Joe plays a pretty sound game. I think he relies on that more than his athleticism. I think the blend of that is what he’s working on in terms of, “hey, I can be technical and I have the athleticism.” Over the two years, he got a lot better and he was outstanding for us all year.
What sort of style does he play? Is he more of a North American goalie or is he more of a Finnish guy with his hands forward and moving his feet actively?
Cole: More North American by that description. He’s probably fairly similar to a lot of what we see in terms of being a big guy and being out and not giving up a whole lot of holes in that sense. I think the thing that ends up separating guys is their athleticism and then their hockey sense. They’ve got to put themselves in those positions. He came a long way. Kevin Reiter does a great job with our goalies. He did a lot of work with Joe. Like I said, he was really outstanding for us all year.
I know Auston Matthews played 10 games for you and the U18 team, and put up even better totals than his numbers with the U17 team.
Cole: He came up for those 10 and then the World Championships. He got close to 20 games with us, and pretty much from February on he was with the older guys. Even more impressive is that he was out until right after Christmas. He broke his leg and was out for the Under-17 world challenge. He had just a bit over a month there and then he jumped in with the older team.
After a broken leg!
Cole: Hard to do with a full season, let alone that. In terms of a test of a young guy’s ability, he was outstanding. The things you see now we obviously saw back then just in terms of breaking down defencemen and the plays he makes in tight. It’s a combination of a real cerebral player and also a real attacking player. When you say cerebral, sometimes people think a guy who just stays out on the perimeter and sees what happens. He’s right in it with a lot of his plays in tight. His compete level is off the charts. He’s a heck of a player.
We had a conversation with Marc Crawford just before the draft about him and he was saying the same thing – he is so good in practice and wants to be first in every drill. Doesn’t matter what it is, he wants to be first at it.
Cole: We’re fortunate here in that we get a lot of really good hockey players, but I think the guys that end up being really, really good NHL players are obviously talented but they’ve got that extra compete and desire to be the best. You look at guys like him, Eichel and Clayton Keller, if there’s a game going on at the end they want to win it. If there’s a 2-on-1 drill and they don’t score, they say, “hey, let’s do one more rep, let’s go back to the line.” They’ve got that intensity and that compete level. When you throw that in with the talent some of those guys have, it’s a fun thing to coach.
When did you think he could be a first overall pick?
Cole: My first time seeing him was when we were on the road during the tryouts. We came back on the Sunday and coach Granato had asked me to watch two or three guys — we were making a decision on some forwards –just to give him my opinion. I got down to the game and really the only guy I paid much attention to was Auston. I remember going into his office and saying, “just tell me you’ve got this Matthews kid lined up because he’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen at one of these camps.” I don’t know if that was a “number one” feeling right there, but when a kid stands out that much that early it is pretty amazing. Once you get around our team and you start seeing him, and you see him in February and the way he played in the Worlds, in my mind it was almost locked up then for me.
How would you compare him and Eichel? I know they had similar numbers in the program. How are they different and how are they similar?
Cole: There are similarities. They’re both big guys, they both skate really well, and as we were saying earlier, they have that compete in them where they want to be the best and want to win whatever it is – the drill, the scrimmage, or the game. But the way they attack the game is a little different. Jack is a very powerful, deceptive skater and I think defencemen have a hard time gauging just how fast he’s going.
Jack’s got that really long stride with the crazy top gear.
Cole: Yeah. You don’t know how fast he’s going until he’s ten feet past you. Jack will play a little bit more of that type of a power game. Whereas Auston – also a fantastic skater – you notice his edge work a little bit more. He’ll get defencemen to turn and break them down that way. There’s a bit of difference there. Jack is more of north-south attacking player whereas Auston can probably get into east-west a little bit more. That’s a little bit of a difference, but there is a lot of similarities in their intensity. They’re both really good faceoff men. They both have a good consciousness about playing defence and they both have that great ability to take over games. From a leadership aspect, Jack is maybe a little more vocal all the time; he’s a little more outgoing of a personality. But I think they both have their own way of leading. With Auston, you’ll notice it more on the bench with his line. He really takes charge with it. Even when he was with our guys — and they were older guys — he would grab his line after a shift and would be on guys in the right way, and take charge that way. Jack is a little bit more comfortable expressing himself within the whole group.