If you’re looking for a player in the 2019 draft who could outperform his draft number, right winger Ethan Phillips is a pretty good candidate. Seen as a fourth- or fifth-rounder by NHL Central Scouting, we at The Hockey News ranked him 71st overall in Draft Preview. He’s an interesting kid with a lot of upside and he has already shown that he’s willing to take on bold challenges despite always being one of the smaller players on the ice at 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds.
“He’s really good,” said one scout. “He’s a small, energy-type player with quick feet and great edges. A playmaker who plays through traffic and makes defenders miss.”
Phillips began his draft year with Selects Hockey Academy, a unique team linked to the South Kent prep school in Connecticut. The Selects play an elite midget schedule, while the players attend classes at South Kent. Phillips had been a star for the under-16 team the year prior and was off to a solid start with the under-18s for 2018-19. But then he got a taste of the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede and the idea of making the jump to the top junior league in the United States became very real.
“Before the year I had just planned on going to Selects and playing as many games as an affiliate with Sioux Falls as possible,” Phillips said. “I was able to get out there in October for four games and it went really well, so I started talking to my coaches at South Kent and Sioux Falls. They were both super-supportive; obviously the South Kent coaches were sad to see me leave, but happy to see me moving on to the next level because that’s their goal.”
He returned to Sioux Falls on Nov. 30 and never looked back, registering 43 points in 50 games on a Stampede squad that would ultimately go on to win the Clark Cup championship. In the meantime, Phillips did online classes with South Kent. That was necessary, because the Nova Scotia native is slated to attend Boston University next season. The Terriers are a top-end program and the team’s weight room will be great for Phillips, who already had one of the lowest body-fat percentages in the entire draft combine this season at 7.5 percent (and I will also note the kid possesses an incredibly firm handshake).
The fact Phillips stuck to his NCAA commitment is pretty impressive, given his background: not only was he drafted by his hometown Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL, but his family actually housed two recent Mooseheads superstars as billets: Nico Hischier and Filip Zadina. But Phillips stuck to his guns.
“I had always wanted to go to college from a young age,” he said. “There was a little bit of temptation this past summer to head to Halifax, especially for the Memorial Cup. But in the long run, the NCAA is what I wanted to do and I’m really looking forward to my time at B.U.”
In terms of his heroes, Phillips even goes between Halifax and college, albeit a rival Boston College alumnus.
“Growing up I loved watching Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin,” he said. “But as a comparison I’d say Cam Atkinson. He’s not a huge guy, but he uses his speed, takes pucks to the net and he’s a right-handed shot.”
Because of the billeting connection, Phillips has already attended two NHL drafts as a spectator and keeping in contact with Hischier and Zadina gave him a heads-up for the combine itself.
“I was able to ask them questions about how they prepared for everything,” Phillips said. “They were really helpful.”
While his developing frame kept Phillips off many of the combine’s top 25 lists, he did score very high on one of the toughest challenges, the Wingate bike test: his fatigue index rating ranked top-five in the class. Like many hockey players, Phillips played multiple sports growing up and continued to do so at South Kent, playing tennis as part of his athletic curriculum.
But when Phillips really wants to mix things up, he hits the waves outside of Cole Harbour, N.S. Yes, this hockey player also surfs.
“I’ve always loved the beach and the water,” he said. “Being able to surf has been really fun in the summer, just to get away from the gym and hockey – you don’t want to be doing the same thing all the time.”
With his upside however, it’s fair to say there is still a lot of high-level hockey to be played in Phillips’ future.