It is true that not everyone who is successful at the junior, college, or minor professional level makes to the next one with ease. Sure, being a top scorer in a lower level suggest they may be one later on. However, the transition is not always easy and there is not always a clear-cut reason as to why not. Sometimes, it just does not happen. That is not to say it the player's progress has ended, just that there is more work to be done to keep striving for better. Matt Luff, the subject of today's prospect profile, fits that description. The hope is that the best is yet to come from Luff.
Who is Matt Luff?
According to his player profile page at the Ontario Hockey League's website, Matt Luff is listed at 6'2", 181 pounds, and was born on May 5, 1997. He played right wing for the Belleville Bulls and 2014-15 was his rookie season in the 'O'. As you can see in his OHL profile page, his production was modest at best. The stats at Elite Prospects include what he did before major junior league hockey.
Luff was a scoring machine in his one season of Midget AAA hockey. He was productive enough to a point where he even made ten appearances for his local team in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, which were also productive as well. The OJHL is a Junior 'A' league so it appeared he wanted to maintain his college eligibility. In September of 2014, he did decide to sign with Belleville after doing well in their camp. In this article from Belleville's site announcing his committment, two things are clear. One, Belleville was in a state of re-organization with several 17-year olds joining the team. Two, they were monitoring Luff for some time.
Luff did indeed lead the group of rookie Bulls in points - only Trent Fox had more points, but he played part of last season with the Erie
McDavids Otters - and it appears that two-way play limited his usage. However, according to CHL Stats, it's still modest production. His point per game rate of 0.48 ranked tied for 180th among all OHL players and 31st among all 17 year olds. Belleville has offensive struggles in general; their leading goal and point scorer was defenseman Jordan Subban and that was with only 25 goals and 52 points. So it's not as if Luff had a lot of support. But he didn't add much either. His torrid scoring from Midget hockey did not transfer to the next level so well.
What Others Say About Matt Luff
Central Scouting Services ranked Luff 90th among North American skaters in their mid-term rankings and 96th in their final rankings. Luff is definitely not a top-tier prospect and so there is not a whole lot out there on him. There are three posts I found that are worth your while in learning more about Luff's game. The first comes from Mike Mackley at Overtime Sports Nation. He wrote this profile on Luff back in March 6; here's the part about Luff's game:
Luff is developing into a strong two-way forward, with above average offensive upside. While he could stand to add muscle to his lanky frame, he has continued to add strength throughout the season, and it has showed in his ability to better compete along the boards and in the gritty areas of the ice. His defensive zone skills are improving, he doesn’t puck watch or chase as much, rather he positions himself well to defend. Luff shows patience in puck possession and a deceptively good vision and playmaking ability. Luff shows a tenaciousness on the forecheck, uses his high hockey IQ to read the play and think the game at a high level, and has an uncanny ability to find the soft spots in defensive zone coverage’s. Luff doesn’t mind engaging physically, however that part of his game has some inconsistencies at this point. Offensively Luff show’s good puck protection skills, a willingness to drive the net hard and a strong, quick release.
There's plenty to pick out there in the whole post. I'll start with that before I get to what I quoted. First, since that posting, Luff apparently put up only one assist in five games. Second, and more relevant, Luff was lined up with two other rookies. So if/when they struggled, Luff likely struggled. Again, Belleville was not an offensive powerhouse whatsoever, so that does not help out anyone's production.
With respect to what I quoted, it's very complimentary. That's common with a lot of profiles of any prospect. I don't think anyone wants to run down a 17-year old potential player as if he was a professional. That said, this is almost in the opposite direction at a first glance. The only direct criticisms are "a lanky frame" (fixable) and inconsistencies with physical play, which is related to that. It demands closer reading into what Luff could do better. That Mackley notes "he doesn't puck watch or chase as much" on defense means it was an issue earlier in the season. That said, I'm not sure I can agree that he has an "uncanny" anything on offense given the level of production he put up. If the OHL actually recorded shots as a publicly available statistic, then there may be some evidence of that; but I'm not sold. Still, Mackley is one of the few people who has seen plenty of Luff.
The second piece comes from OHL Prospect maven Brock Otten. Otten recently released his top 50 (with honorable mentions) OHL prospects. Luff actually made it into his top 30 at 28th. For someone who did not really jump off the proverbial page with his stats, that's not bad. Here's what Otten wrote:
Luff is a good sized winger who does most of his damage in close. He has very good hands and he's great at using his size to protect the puck. He works the cycle well and is aggressive in attacking the crease when he doesn't have the puck. His skating does need some work and it limits his effectiveness off the rush, but he has the potential to be a great power forward once that improves (because of his ability to maintain puck possession). His goal scoring numbers are a little low for the type of player he is, but I think he was just a little snake bitten this year. His shot and hands in close project him as a goal scorer as he gains more confidence IMO (and gets quicker to loose pucks).
Between the two, the common pieces instill more confidence in what's real. To me, for example, I can better believe that he's good at protecting the puck. That he can attack without the puck speaks to that whole bit on finding soft zones in defensive coverages, since defenses tend to protect the crease and slot areas. Most of all, what Otten wrote about his goal scoring numbers being low makes me really wish I knew how many shots he took. I would not be totally surprised if he averaged a couple of shots per game and they just didn't get in for one reason or another. It seems like more speed will help, but will he get that as he gets bigger weight-wise? I don't know.
Lastly, Sean Lafortune, who covers prospects for junior leagues at TheScout.ca and OHL prospects for McKeen's, released his list of top forty players he's seen live in 2014-15. That's not his top 40 list for the 2015 NHL Draft, just the top forty based on who he has watched in person. Luff made the list at the 40th position. Here's what he wrote about Luff:
Fine rookie campaign. Coming into the League from Oakville Midget program, Luff was known as a smart, attentive winger with quality offensive tools. While that was displayed at times this year, he struggled with inconsistency (not uncommon among rookies) and injuries. Despite that, we saw enough of him to appreciate the potential that he holds. Tough and honest, he’s at his best within 4/5 feet of the net, finding ways to finish plays and positioning himself in prime areas around the net. Not overly skilled but offers makes up for it with his ability to win battles. Went through a bit of a growth spurt pre-OHL which effected his skating and coordination, stride should elongate and fill out as he matures. Projects more as a depth forward at this point, but he's done enough to prove himself an NHL pick at this point, he's worth the gamble.
Injuries? Maybe Luff played with them because he only missed four games with Belleville. It is certainly not unheard of and it could contribute to his season. Of course, depending on what it is, it may be more of a reason to look elsewhere. In any case, Lafortune's viewings adds additional insight with what he does on the ice, how he adds value going forward. His conclusion, while optimistic in that he thinks he'll be picked, he does not think Luff will just become a scorer. I cannot say I disagree.
A Little Not Really Hockey Video
There is not any game or highlight video of Luff that I could find on Youtube. However, the owners of the Hamilton Bulldogs sold their AHL team and bought Belleville earlier this March. Luff was asked a few weeks ago about the transition in facilities. He does discuss his game as well.
He describes himself as a two-way forward, who contributes by "getting a lot of assists." Luff also says he needs to work on "his first three strides" and winning more battles for pucks in the corners and along the boards. That's heartening to hear; the Bulldogs faithful will see what comes out of those efforts to improve in the fall.
An Opinion of Sorts
That Luff sees himself as a two-way forward may be a safer projection than a great power forward or a scorer. That Otten describes him as "just a little snake bitten" when it came to scoring may mean he will be more productive in coming junior seasons. Again, I wouldn't be really surprised if he had a really low shooting percentage; but without the OHL publicly counting shots, I couldn't tell you if that is true or not. The fact that he scored a lot at the level below junior suggests something is there. Otten and Mackley spoke to it in some regard, but since the numbers do not really justify it, he does not command a lot of attention. It could happen in the future, but that is not necessarily indicative of playing like that beyond. If Luff is adept enough at winning pucks, helping on defense, and providing some other value, then that will be what gets him notice and it would fit nicely with that description of a "two-way forward." Basically, what Lafortune concluded in him from his viewings per his list of viewed NHL draft eligible players.
A player ranked in the lower end of the top 100 or lower by CSS suggests that it is not a guarantee he will get drafted. For a player like Luff, it comes down to whether a scout or scouts see him play and conclude that he has some real potential. What means could be a bunch of things. They could see a forward who was a former scorer at a lower level that just needed a season to get used to the next level of junior hockey They could see a forward who became a hardworking, two-way player after being an offensive machine at a lower level that might be able to do it at professional levels. They could see something else. The point is that if they see something, then there's a good chance he'll get picked. Whether that is in the fourth round - where I think he'll end up, given his ranking - or later will depend on that.
Should the Devils pick him? By the fourth round and beyond, I personally think the goal is really to identify future NHL players as opposed certain types or levels of upside. Is Luff that sort of player? That he is still improving as a two-way player is a bit concerning in that regard. If he has a real upside there, then great. However, if they were to go down that route (whether they should is another question entirely), I would rather the Devils pick someone who excelled as a two-way player in major junior as opposed to someone who was a scorer in midgets and then transitioned to a different role in major juniors. Again, I'm fine with finding those players in the fourth round and beyond; but I think the Devils should try for I don't think selecting Luff in the fourth round is that bad of an idea; I just think there could be other prospects that are more interesting projects. I do think he'll get picked; where will depend on which scout(s) like him and by how much.
Now that you learned a bit more about Matt Luff, I want to know what you think. Is the best yet to come from him as a scorer, or is this about it? Will he continue on the same path he started in Belleville? Would you want the Devils to draft him if he's available in the fourth round for the Devils? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Luff in the comments. Thank you for reading.