2008-09 team: The Academy of Holy Angels
He was one of Minnesota high school hockey’s most electrifying and highly regarded players this season. But there’s much more to Danny Mattson than just his dazzling display of speed and offensive creativity.
Mattson has just completed his senior year at Holy Angels where he led the Stars with 76 points (25 goals, 51 assists) in 27 games. His 76 points also led all Minnesota state Class AA players. He led the entire of state of Minnesota with a plus-49 as well.
Mattson was named a finalist for the Mr. Hockey award as the state’s top player and earned first team selections to the AP All-State team as well as the Star-Tribune’s All-Metro team.
Mattson’s greatest accomplishment this season may have been in breaking the school’s career points record of 213 previously held by current Minnesota Golden Gopher Jay Barriball (STL). Mattson finishes his illustrious four-year career at Holy Angels having amassed 252 points (89 goals, 163 assists) in 109 games.
Although Mattson is happy to have broken his record, he also has great respect for Barriball. The two played one season together in 2005-06 when Mattson was a freshman and Barriball was a senior.
"It was a great honor playing with Jay and I can only hope to be as good as him because I’ve got a long way to go to do that," Mattson said. "I definitely looked up to him. He could do things with the puck that I wanted to be able to do. I worked so hard to try and do them, but some of the things that Jay can do, I can’t do."
Prior to his final year at Holy Angels, Mattson had the opportunity to play in the USHL with the Omaha Lancers, but declined. It was a decision that he expresses neither regret nor makes any apology for.
"I wanted to finish out my career at Holy Angels, where I had played the last three years," he said. "They developed me here. I felt that I owed it to them and wanted to respect that by finishing out my four years and to try and help the team get to the state tournament this year. I also have a lot of great friends here plus a great family that helped me to decide to stick around."
Like most of the state’s top players, a number of the top college programs heavily courted Mattson. Although non-WCHA schools did not show interest in him, virtually all of the league’s member schools recruited the dynamic young forward. His final choices came down to Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota. As Mattson explained, committing to the University of North Dakota just seemed to be the right fit for him.
"When I first walked into that rink, I was just in awe," he said. "The facilities are just unbelievable. It was a real treat for me to meet the coaches. When I first met them, I felt that I could just go up and talk to them about anything, not just hockey. They’re just great people and they also have great fans there too. It was kind of tough to not be able to stay near home, but I think going to North Dakota is just a better fit for me."
Mattson credits much of his growth as a player to his coach Greg Trebil. While he looks back fondly at his four years at Holy Angels, he has only one regret.
"We had a really close team this year and were hoping to get to the state tournament," he said. "It was always my dream to go to there, but it didn’t work out. I think Coach Trebil knows the game probably better than any coach in high school hockey. He’s studied it and knows the game so well. I was all offense when I came to Holy Angels and that was all I knew. He taught and prepared me for how to play defense. I think I’m ready to go to North Dakota to prove that. He not only taught me a lot about hockey, but he taught me about how to be a good person too. He’d have meetings with all of us guys and just showed us how to be good people. He really gets us kids going and it was a real treat for me to play for him. It was too bad that I couldn’t go to the state tournament with him, but it was a great time."
Being able to coach such a superbly talented young player like Mattson has been quite rewarding for Trebil as well.
"Danny is kind of a package deal in that he’s a tremendous hockey player, but he also has a couple of parents that are just beyond belief. He was with us for four years and we never had a problem with Danny the entire four years.
"Danny’s developed physically so well. He’s really a strong kid and he uses that well. And when you put that together with the fact that he’s just got amazing hands as well as view of the ice, he’s just second to nobody that I’ve ever coached before. And the type of elected leadership that Danny provided really helped us to become a much better team than maybe we even had the potential to be."
While Mattson has been on the scouting radar for a few years, the spotlight has been heightened even more this season as a result of being draft eligible. The attention has been an education of sorts for Mattson.
"At the beginning of the year it was kind of weird and different, but I think it really helped me because I realized that that I had to show up every game because the scouts were looking to see how I played in those games. I think it completely helped me to develop as a player. It’s been fun to have that attention. Sometimes after a bad game you just want to get out of there, but I think it was a good learning experience."
"The thing with Danny is that he’s pretty even-keeled," noted Trebil. "He can focus on what he needs to focus on and just shut out what’s going on around him. We had a boatload of scouts at virtually every one of our games and he was just the same ol’ Danny both in the locker room and on the ice. It just didn’t seem to bother him nor interfered with his game. I think that shows a certain amount of maturity on his part."
Mattson is planning to attend the upcoming NHL Combine that precedes the draft. There his explosive speed will be quanified. He is an excellent skater that may have been the fastest player in the Class A/AA league this season. He can get up to speed very quickly and it has also made him one of the most difficult players to defend one-on-one.
Mattson also possesses marvelous hands and shows great poise and patience with the puck. He’s also very smart and creative with the puck. Mattson seems equally as comfortable setting up plays as he is finishing them. He is instinctive and possesses great on-ice vision. Part of what makes Mattson so dangerous when he has the puck is his hard work and deceptive moves, particularly around the net. He also has a very good shot and is quite effective on draws too. This season, Trebil and his staff have worked with Mattson to shoot more, which has helped to elevate his team’s offensive output.
While Mattson has played much of this season at the wing position, he has also played center too. And as Trebil explains, Mattson’s versatility has not only further enhanced his team, but it has also enabled him to utilize his star player in areas out of necessity as well.
"I think his natural position will probably end up being center," Trebil said. "The one thing — and this is especially difficult at times with a guy being such a team player as Danny is — was that we had a situation where we had a kid (John Haeg) that really complimented Danny. So we had him with Danny and decided to put Danny out on the wing because he was a lot faster and Haeg was more of a mucker and could be harder to play against. So (at the time) we basically had to shape our team to play against Edina, and we decided that we needed a big center in there that would make us most effective. I’m sure that Danny would’ve liked to have played center but he just goes where we asked him to go. And that was a question that came up a lot of times from the scouts. We just had to explain to them that as much as we wanted to showcase Danny, we needed to win games. So we were going to play him where we thought was the best for the team and Danny was fine with it. So that’s why we did it. In a lot of ways that to me just shows you more character and value on Danny’s part."
Mattson’s noticeably added size and strength has greatly improved his ability to protect the puck, and while it has also helped him be more involved in the physical side of the game, it’s an area that Mattson admits is still a work in progress.
"I worked out five days a week this past summer and it was good. I gained about nine pounds over the summer and came into this year a lot stronger. I also did some workouts during the season a few days a week just to stay strong throughout the season. Now leading up to the Combine, I’m working out five days a week again with Nick Leddy at a place called Arpwave in Burnsville. But I definitely need to work on being more physical. I need to be able to finish all of my checks and just be able to play a complete, all-around game. I need to be in there forechecking, battling, and winning all of the battles, including faceoffs."
Another area that Mattson has worked diligently to improve is in his defensive side. As his career at Holy Angels progressed, Mattson has learned the importance of defensive responsibility, which has also helped to mold him into the more complete player. It is an area that has and should continue to improve as he moves on to the next levels as well.
So how does Mattson describe himself?
"I think I’m a finesse player that can see the ice and make plays," he said.
He lists Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf as his favorite NHL player and tries to pattern his style of play after Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Minnesota Wild.
"The thing I like about Ryan is that he can do it all," Mattson said. "He can pass, shoot and will drop the mitts if he needs to. I like to try and play like Pierre-Marc because he can just see the game so well and he’s so quick. He’s small, fast and just strong on his skates. He’s just fun to watch."
As one of the team captains this season, Mattson has shown that he has excellent leadership qualities. He leads by example and has the ability to make those around him better. But what are perhaps two of the least talked about characteristics that make Mattson so special are his humility and fierce loyalty to his team. He is a young man who is confident yet quite humble, and is the consummate team player.
"Danny is one of those kinds of guys that when he gets frustrated, he can show it in a positive way," said Trebil. "He has that quiet type of leadership that really pushes other people around him. The other thing is his willingness and ability to sacrifice some of his own glory for the team. He’s a team guy.
"The one thing that we’ve had to work with Danny on is not to allow him to get too down on himself because he’s got a real conscience. He knows when he’s not giving it his best or makes a mistake. He takes full responsibility for it. I think as Danny has matured, he has kind of found that and he’s learning from his mistakes and not destroying himself because of them. I would say that he’s not nearly to his topside yet, but as Danny continues to mature and take the steps up the ladder, he’s going to become even better as he goes along."
Outlook for the draft
Mattson is ranked 53rd on Central Scouting’s final rankings among North American skaters. He could go as high as the mid second round.