A change of scenery worked in Matthew Struthers‘ favour last season, now the 19-year-old enters his fourth OHL campaign with no shortage of motivation.
A 6-foot-2, 194Ib. centreman, Struthers put up nearly a point-per-game following a midseason trade to the North Bay Battalion in 2017-18, collecting 27 of his 45 points (23-22–45) on the season in green. Despite a strong second half however, Struthers was passed over in his first year of NHL Draft eligibility and didn’t get any nibbles as a free agent invite to NHL Development Camps.
Having sat through seven rounds in Dallas, Struthers has come out on the other side with a positive attitude, determined to make the most of what looks to be a golden opportunity in North Bay this season. He’s recently been named alongside former Battalion captain Riley Bruce to the Carolina Hurricanes Traverse City Prospects Tournament roster for the annual showcase that runs September 7-11.
“It’s a motivator, you can take it any way you want but I’ve realized there’s some things I need to work on and I’m excited about the year ahead,” he said. “We’ve got a number of guys in our lineup who probably deserve a look but nobody is going to get down about it. There’s a lot of work to be done and endless opportunities to show what we’re made of.”
Troops assistant coach and assistant general manager Adam Dennis concurs, expressing some surprise that Struthers didn’t get a look this past June.
“Matt’s a guy we leaned on pretty heavily in the latter half of last season and we expected things to work out differently,” said Dennis, a former two-time OHL Champion, Memorial Cup winner and 2006 OHL Goaltender of the Year. “He came to our club and brought a level of professionalism that was unmatched. He worked hard in practice, was really good for some of our younger guys and was a welcome addition.”
The move to North Bay followed two-and-a-half seasons in Owen Sound after the Attack selected him in the third round of the 2015 OHL Priority Selection. Struthers joined additions in former Minor Midget teammate Christian Propp and overage forward Jake Henderson in helping the Troops turn things around in the second half as they played to a 17-9-2-3 mark following his arrival on January 3rd. He found himself on a line alongside a pair of similarly overlooked veterans in Justin Brazeau and Luke Burghardt as the three combined to lead the club in scoring. The 6-foot-5 Brazeau finished with 75 points (39-36–75) while the fleet-footed Burghardt collected 71 points (28-43–71).
“He and his linemates developed some pretty good chemistry,” Dennis continued. “He, Brazeau and Burghardt are three guys in similar situations who we expect will get more recognition as they continue to work hard toward their goals.”
Hailing from Milton, a city of approximately 110,000 on the outskirts of the GTA, Struthers has enjoyed the small-town feel of both Owen Sound and North Bay over the course of his time in the league.
“A lot of people actually ask me how I enjoy it and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would at first,” he admitted. “There’s something special about communities like these ones though. You get to have the experience of sort of being the talk of the town and everyone comes to the games. I’ve actually been able to live on the water with billet families in both places so that’s been kind of cool.”
Not traditionally a team known for big offensive numbers, the Battalion finished 17th in goals-for last season. While Stan Butler’s club is recognized for playing a structured, well-disciplined 200-foot game, goals will need to come from somewhere in 2018-19 and Struthers’ performance last season indicates he’s a likely source.
“He earned his ice, came in and showed us what he can offer and we’re eager to see more of that in the coming months,” concluded Dennis. “With another year in the league comes greater expectations and we know Matt has worked hard over the summer because he wants to keep improving and be a big part of things for us.”
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