Matthew Maggio’s junior hockey career didn’t start off very well.
Playing for the Ottawa 67’s during the 2018-19 season, Maggio registered just four goals and three assists in 35 games. He was traded to his hometown Windsor Spitfires, and in 2019-20, Maggio struggled again with three goals and 11 assists in 45 games.
For a forward hoping to get taken in the NHL Draft, those are not ideal numbers.
“I’ve had a crazy ride here in the OHL,” said Maggio during a phone conversation with WFAN.com. “I wasn’t very good my first two years. I was on some great teams where I didn’t really play a lot.”
Last season, things turned around for Maggio, as he had a breakthrough season: 38 goals and 47 assists in 66 games. The Islanders then selected the right wing No. 142 overall in the fifth round in last June’s NHL Draft.
Maggio was named team captain before this season and he’s been lightning up the Ontario Hockey League, with 41 goals and 43 assists so far in 49 games.
“It’s exciting but at the same time, it’s something that I’ve worked for for a long time coming,” said Maggio. “It’s very nice to have that success after the road that I’ve been on. At the end of the day, the personal success is great but I’m the captain here and I think we have one of the strongest teams in our league.”
Maggio and the Spitfires lead the OHL’s West Division with 74 points, and have established themselves as a serious contender for the Memorial Cup. Winning is the most important thing on his mind, but he knows that he has Islanders Country excited with the season that he’s having, certainly outplaying where he was drafted.
“What I do for the team is try to score and put up points, and if that helps the team, obviously it’s great,” said the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Maggio, a native of Tecumseh, Ontario, just east of Windsor. “As far as the draft and going in the fifth round, it didn’t really matter what round. You hear it all the time, guys in the sixth and seventh round as well, end up making it. Honestly, it’s a foot in the door.”
How good has Maggio been the last couple of seasons? Just ask his coach.
“Ever since I took the job last year, he’s been excellent,” said Spitfires Head Coach and former NHL player Marc Savard. “He’s continued to grow his game and contribute in all aspects. He’s had a pretty special year. He’s our captain and he’s our hardest working guy every night.”
Maggio is everything that you would want as a top player and as a leader. He gets along with everybody and treats his teammates with respect, even if sometimes he has to tell them something they may not want to hear.
“I’m a guy where I’m not really going to scream and yell at you or intimidate you too much, but if I have to be firm, I will,” said Maggio. “I think the main thing that I’ve been working on, and my coaches have done a great job with me on this, is leading by example, so that’s being able to bring it every night.”
And that compete level rubs off on the rest of the team, as Maggio has been able to raise the level of the players around him.
“Just the compete,” said Savard. “The wanting to get results every night to help his team win. He continually scores goals and sets up plays because he wants to get results, and that’s how he’s an impact on our team, by scoring or making plays.”
While Maggio hopes to lead his team to a Memorial Cup, he can’t help but think what lies ahead for him next season: he’ll be at Islanders training camp with the hope of pushing hard for a roster spot. The most likely scenario is that he starts the season with the Bridgeport Islanders of the American Hockey League, but either way, Maggio is excited for the start of his professional career.
“I definitely do think about it, and obviously, coming into camp next year, I know what I need to do,” said Maggio. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t coming to try and make New York, so whatever happens, happens. It is my goal to push for a roster spot this year.”
When you have a prospect like Maggio who is tearing it up at the junior level, the obvious thought from fans is what NHL player that he would be comparable to? To find someone similar to Maggio, you don’t have to look any further than Long Island.
“Mat Barzal,” said Savard. “There’s a lot of comparable: the way they skate, the way they control the puck…Mag might be more of a goal first, whereas Barzal is a bit more of a playmaker.”
Maggio appreciates the comparison.
“I do try to play like him,” said Maggio. “He’s so electric and his edges are so good. He creates time and space with his skating and I think I try to do that too. Being an Islanders draft pick and watching their games this year, Barzal is always the guy I have my eye on. He’s a guy that can dictate the flow of the game.”
Maggio has a couple of other connections to a couple of other current Islanders. When he was younger, his father owned a gym and trained a lot of pro players, including Islanders forward and Windsor, Ontario, native Matt Martin.
“I’m pretty lucky with that and I think it’s definitely cool to see him and get to talk to him at camp,” said Maggio.
And then there’s the connection to Josh Bailey, who was a star with the Windsor Spitfires during his junior days.
“Getting to talk with him and his experiences there was pretty cool as well,” said Maggio.
Sometimes, a mid-to-late round draft pick can turn out to be a really good NHL player. Islanders fans are hoping that Matthew Maggio could be that guy, and he will certainly be someone to pay close attention to this fall at training camp.
And Maggio is looking forward to being a part of Islanders Country.
“I’m pretty happy to go to a place like the Islanders,” said Maggio.
But first things first: trying to help Windsor lift the Memorial Cup.
Follow Peter Schwartz on Twitter: @SchwartzSports
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