C Auston Matthews (ZSC Lions, NLA)
Auston Matthews decided to take an unusual route to the draft. Instead of playing North American junior or college hockey, Matthews decided to play for the Swiss club Zurich Lions in the National Liga A. Playing against men while making a first salary? There are probably worse things a draft prospect could do.
"A high octane dynamo that thrives under the microscope, Auston Matthews is a complete offensive forward who consistently boasts quick hands, feet, and thinking at both ends of the ice. Naturally nimble skater that accelerates to top speed very quickly. An unwavering focus on fine tuning elements of his own game facilitates confidence and competence in his young, but mature, mind. Prolific goal scoring ability and doesn’t wait for opportunities to show themselves. He makes his own luck, so to speak, maximizing the use of his body and stick to gain leverage against the toughest of opponents. All-in-all, a generational talent that has the potential to develop into a top flight franchise center. (Curtis Joe, EP 2016)"
Matthews is completely outstanding in Zurich. His 23 goals in 32 games rank second in the entire league. His 38 points are good for second on the team and 13th in the league. Good numbers for an 18-year old that just show Matthews indeed would have been ready to play in the NHL this season. Had he been selected third overall by the Arizona Coyotes who went with Erie Otters centre Dylan Strome instead, Matthews could now be leading an NHL team into the playoffs. Maybe next year.
At least Team USA was lucky to have Matthews playing outside of the NHL, as he was one of the best players at the 2016 World Junior Championship in Helsinki. There, he recorded seven goals and 11 points in seven games and was named to the tournament All-Star Team.
Then again, he certainly would have been an option for Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Potential: Franchise Forward
Draft Range: 1-2
Next: W Patrik Laine