Q&A with Matthew Pistilli

By Holly Gunning

Scratched in the ECHL is not where you usually find NHL prospects. But Matthew Pistilli was being shown a lesson, one he could already fully explain with the exercise barely underway.

Signed as a free agent by Carolina this summer out of the QMJHL, Pistilli scored 45 goals his last year of junior as an overager. This year the 6’2 winger started in the AHL with the Albany River Rats, posting six points in 25 games and a solid +2. Now down with ECHL affiliate Florida Everblades, the Montreal native has a goal in five games. But he’s learning that a complete game and a level head is more important than a player’s stat line.

Hockey’s Future spoke to Pistilli on Tuesday night as he watched the Everblades play the first period.

HF: Are you injured? Why aren’t you playing tonight?
MP: No, I just came down from Albany and I was running around a little bit too much here, so right now I’m just watching how the team’s doing and I’ll be back against South Carolina on Thursday.

HF: So they just want you to watch the systems?

MP: Yeah, I was running around too much so it’s a good opportunity for me to watch everything and soak in coming down here and I’ll be back top-notch against South Carolina.

HF: How is Florida’s system different than what you played in Albany?

MP: There’s a couple different things. I think coming down from Albany I made a pretty good rookie mistake, I was just running around everywhere, I wasn’t concentrating on my defensive game. I was trying to get some goals. But now I’m watching the defensive guys and how they do things. I’ll be back strong.

HF: Was the adjustment to the pros more difficult than you expected in Albany?
MP: No, not really. I thought I adjusted fairly well, I found it harder back in junior. In pro hockey, you’re playing with better players, better positioning. It’s a step up for sure, it’s a harder game, but the adjustment to the pace went well. The veteran guys and the coaches help you. Right now I’m down here with Florida and just want to play as well as I can. They want me to come here to get more ice time. In Albany I was playing fourth-line minutes. I want to keep my confidence up and I’ll be back up there.

HF: You were mostly a goal scorer in junior. When you think about yourself in the NHL, do you think you’ll have to become a checker?

MP: You never know what’s going to happen. Obviously there are some first rounders who are pure goal scorers. I have to add more facets to my game. That’s an adjustment I try to make. That’s why I’m down here. I’ve got to add a defensive side to my game. If I could become a solid third-line checker who could chip in offensively…you never know what they’re going to ask you to do. I have to prepare for whatever role they will give me. Obviously I have the skill to get some offensive punch in. If I can add a defensive side to my game, that would be an awesome plus.

HF: So then were you disappointed with how little you were scoring in Albany?

MP: No, it’s my first year. I wasn’t getting much power play and high minutes. I was just playing a fourth-line role with the excellent prospects who are up there in Albany. A couple points up there on the fourth line, it was encouraging. Sometimes on the fourth line you’re holding your stick a little too tight. The good thing is I got scoring opportunities. I just have to get my confidence back up to 100 percent and I’ll be fine.I got sent down for a few days and went back up and was playing excellent hockey from there on, but it’s just a situation of being crowded right now and they’d rather have me on the ice. I’ll work my way back up there.

HF: Have you been at right wing all year?

MP: It’s funny, every year I switch off — right, left, right, left. I’m used to both. On breakouts I’m used to right wing, but if I know I’m playing left wing, I’ll just practice a couple breakouts the day before and I’ll be fine. It’s just catching a pass on the backhand.

HF: But if you had to classify yourself as one or the other, you’d say right wing?
MP: Yes, it’s my comfort spot, but I can play left wing as well as right. It doesn’t bother me. Even in Albany, whenever there was a guy missing on the third line, I would be the one to go on the right or left side.

HF: People have said that one reason you were passed over in the draft is your skating. Do you feel like you’ve improved that?
MP: Absolutely, I’ve made light-year strides in my skating. From the atom and peewee ranks, I was always the slowest guy on the team. I’ve worked hard and gotten a lot faster. I keep up right now and I’m fine. You obviously want to get your speed better and better. I know it’s not at an NHL level yet. But I work hard at it, and if I can keep making improvements, I’ll be alright.

HF: What do you do in the summer, work with a skating coach?

MP: Yeah, I work with a skating coach and a strength and conditioning coach. I made huge strides. I used to be a little heavier and I’ve lost weight. I want to lost another five pounds. If I could get down to 210, that would be a perfect weight, more agile on my skates. Every year my speed’s been improving. If I can keep improving, that’s a good sign.

HF: Who is your skating coach?
MP: Francois Landreville, he’s back in Quebec. I work out with Jason Pominville, Jean-Francois Jacques, Francis Bouillon, and a couple other NHL guys. We have a good group working up there. Working at their pace in the summer makes me pick up what they’re doing. I want to keep on getting better and looking at guys like that, it just give me extra motivation to get to the NHL.

HF: How many years have you worked with Landreville?

MP: This summer was my third year with him, I will be going back because every year I’ve been improving. Now I’m not the slowest on the team. I feel like I’m an average skater. When I get going, I’m a fast guy, the problem is you have to get going and the NHL is a game of 10-15 feet, just explosive time. If I could just get that explosion for my game, it would be great.

HF: When you went to Carolina’s camp, did they give you suggestions about your skating?
MP: No, not really. I went to Carolina’s camp and had an unlucky break — right before camp I hurt my groin and my quadricep. I battled through it. It didn’t help my at camp, I wish I had gone there 100 percent healthy. I was probably only playing at 50-60 percent of my capabilities. It was kind of frustrating. Every game I wanted to play. No doubt during the season I wouldn’t have played, but it was camp and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I didn’t want to sit in the stands even though the odds of making the team were near impossible. But you want the organization to take a look. Even at the beginning of the year in Albany, I missed a few games with my injury. Now it’s back to 100 percent.

HF: How many games did you miss with the groin and how many were healthy scratch?

MP: I missed about two or three games with the groin and I think I was a healthy scratch for about four up there. I’m a rookie, a free agent guy, I know I’m at the bottom of the hierarchy right now in Carolina’s system. I’ve always battled through. People have always doubted me because of my speed, I’ve always been proving everybody wrong. I have a good attitude. I’ll just keep doing the same thing.

HF: Another criticism you’ve probably heard is that you had some really good linemates, and how much of it was you. What do you say to that?
MP: I had a very good linemate in Claude Grioux. He gave me a lot of confidence back, but I feel like even last year in juniors, I was often on the second line back in Shawinigan and I still finished in the top scorers. Some people will like me, some people won’t, like every player. I’ll keep on proving everybody wrong. My No. 1 goal is just to make it to the NHL.

HF: You seem very intense.
MP: I’m not a nervous guy, but I’m a little agitated off the ice, a little bit hyperactive — I shake my leg and stuff. But mentally I’m a laid-back guy and I like to have fun. I know that I have a good attitude and work hard. It’s never been easy for me and I don’t think it’s ever going to change (laughs). I’m used to it and I’ll climb the ladder and make it up there.

HF: To be a fourth-liner, usually they want you to hit. You’re comfortable with that game, right?
MP: For sure, that’s a little bit of a grudge against me, being consistent in my hitting. One game I’ll get two, three good checks and I’ll go two, three games without getting a good check. That’s something I’m trying to improve too down here in Florida. I’m a big body so I’ll improve my game physically and use my body more to my advantage. It’s like telling a small fast guy not to use his speed. I’ve always been a skilled player and want to add that physical element to my game on a consistent basis.

HF: You played with Philippe Paradis, when he got traded were you shocked?
MP: I was his linemate last year, so obviously I was a little bit interested in the trade, but that’s hockey, things happen. I’m pretty sure he’ll be alright in Toronto. When I saw it at first I was like ‘wow’ — pretty shocked — but Carolina’s got to do what they’ve got to do to get better and if they felt they got the better of that trade, good for them. Hopefully things will work out for him.

HF: The weather is certainly nicer for you in Florida than Albany, eh?

MP: Yeah, it’s nice, but you want to be playing at the highest level possible. The weather is fun, but I’m here to play hockey, not here to be on the beach.

HF: What’s your goal for the rest of the year, to get back to Albany?
MP: My goal is to become a better hockey player. Staying in Florida is all about injuries — you never wish that on anyone, but if I would get a call-up I wouldn’t miss the chance for sure. I know they’re overcrowded right now. I’ll just keep getting better and adjust myself 100 percent to the pro game and have an excellent second half of the year. I’ll have a good summer and next year it will be a good season.