Since joining Oilers, Matt Fraser has added size, toughness and a little offence
Matt Fraser worked his way into the NHL after going undrafted, signing as a free agent then playing in the WHL and AHL. (QMI Agency)
The Edmonton Oilers brought Matt Fraser in to provide size and toughness to their forward group and perhaps shake up a stagnant lineup.
The Red Deer product has done that, while also displaying soft hands and a keen instinct around the net.
In five games with the Oilers, heading into Friday’s contest against the Chicago Blackhawks (7:30 p.m.) at Rexall Place, Fraser has two goals. He had three in 24 games with the Boston Bruins before being waived and consequently picked up by Edmonton.
“It’s been fun. It’s been exciting for myself. You just have to come in here and try to inject a little enthusiasm and bring a good work ethic into the dressing room,” Fraser said. “There is definitely room for improvement, anytime I flatline or become happy with how I play is when I get in trouble. There is room for improvement, there is room to clean up some areas, but overall, it’s been going well.”
Undrafted out of the Western Hockey League, Fraser, 24, had to scratch and claw his way to the NHL.
He signed as a free agent with the Dallas Stars and was sent back to junior to play as an overage player. Fraser helped lead the Kootenay Ice to a WHL title in 2011, collecting 36 goals and 74 points in 66 games. He added 17 goals and 27 assists in 19 playoff games, then had an excellent Memorial Cup tournament as the Ice bowed out in the semifinal to Mississauga, who went on to lose to Saint John in the final.
“I’ve always lived by the motto that there are no bad days in the NHL,” Fraser said. “I feel very blessed to do what I do and every day I come to the rink, I know that I have to be the hardest-working guy on the ice, off the ice, wherever it may be. That’s kind of the sword that I’ve had to live by to get where I am now and to keep me here.”
Following his junior career, Fraser went to play with the Texas Stars in the AHL, scoring 37 goals in his first season. He added 33 goals in his second AHL season before being traded to the Boston Bruins as part of the deal that sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas.
“I’ve watched Matty play in the minors, so I know what he’s capable of doing,” said Oilers coach Todd Nelson. “He has a good shot and he’s a guy that’s pretty much finding his way on a new team. I like the line that he’s on now with Anton (Lander) and Teddy (Purcell), it looked like he had some chemistry. I think he’s capable of scoring goals and helping this team.”
Fraser’s scoring abilities in the minors have yet to translate into the NHL, but that may have a lot to do with a lack of opportunity.
During his two years in the Stars organization, Fraser only played in 13 NHL games, collecting a goal and two assists in that time.
In Boston, he was played down in the lineup behind a number of high-profile wingers.
Fraser scored two goals in 14 games with the Bruins during his first season, spending the majority of the year with Providence, where he scored 20 goals and had 30 points in 44 games.
“He does have good hands,” Nelson said. “I like the fact that he couples that with finishing his checks and uses his body to battle in the corner. If that aspect of his game continues where he’s strong in the corners, the goals will come.”
Fraser made an early impression with the Oilers, scoring in his second game with the club in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames. He added another in a 5-2 win against the New York Islanders on Sunday.
“It’s good to get some fresh faces and fresh energy in here and you need to provide that as a new guy coming in here,” Fraser said. “Some of us new guys have come from some winning teams, and you have to take what you learned from there and bring it here.”
Currently in the last year of his contract, Fraser is playing for a job. Early returns indicate he could find a place with the Oilers beyond this season.
“I would love more than anything than to stay in Edmonton,” Fraser said. “That’s something that’s out of my control. All I can do is focus on my play and focus on being the right kind of professional here.”