The NHL draft is now less than a week away with the first round set for this Friday. Over the next several days, we will be taking a closer look at the prospects who will hear their name called early on Friday night.
We start with the consensus #1 pick, Auston Matthews.
Birthdate: September 17, 1997
Hometown: Scottsdale, Arizona
Weight: 216 lbs
Matthews shocked the hockey world by opting to spurn offers from both the junior and collegiate levels, deciding to turn pro and sign with the Zurich Lions of the Swiss NLA instead. It’s hard to argue he made the wrong decision as he finished in the top-10 in league scoring (and second in team scoring) despite missing time due to injury.
He was also busy internationally, representing the US in a pair of tournaments. Matthews was an alternate captain at the World Junior Championships and tied for the team lead in scoring while being named to the tournament All-Star Team. He also suited up at the World Championships last month where he once again tied for the team lead in points.
Zurich: 36 GP, 24 goals, 22 assists, 46 points, 6 PIMS, +16 rating
WJC’s: 7 GP, 7 goals, 4 assists, 11 points, 2 PIMS, +6 rating
Worlds: 10 GP, 6 goals, 3 assists, 9 points, 2 PIMS, even rating
Very few players are the ‘complete package’ coming into the draft but Matthews is one of those exceptions, especially after really improving his defensive game playing under Marc Crawford (now the Associate Coach with Ottawa) with Zurich. He has the speed to outrace his opponents plus the size and strength to muscle himself away in tight corners.
Offensively, Matthews can do it all. He’s a gifted passer and sees the ice well, he can play well in transition or cycling along the boards, and he has an elite, powerful shot that he needs very little time to get off. One area that he will need to improve on is a tendency to be too creative. That’s not unique to high-level teenage talents though and is something that will be refined and improved on in the NHL.
In his own end, Matthews doesn’t cheat and look to fly the zone early; instead, he’s one of the first ones back and doesn’t leave until his team is in possession of the puck. He also has made strides defending one-on-one and is now more than capable of handling himself against most opposing forwards. He may struggle a bit early on against some of the bigger power forwards in the NHL but that shouldn’t hinder him for too long.
Projected Future Role
Franchise center capable of playing in any situation.
Not many players from this draft will make the jump to the NHL right away but Matthews will be one who steps in and makes an impact right away. He may not start out as a #1 center day one (starting on the second line seems more likely as he’s eased into playing at a new level) but it shouldn’t be long before he ascends into that role. He’ll be heard from quickly in the NHL.