18-year-old Auston Matthews expected to be first pick in NHL draft

Finland v USA White - 2014 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp

The 2016 National Hockey League entry draft is already widely believed to be topped by right-winger Auston Matthews. The American-Mexican prospect spent his youth years in the U.S. Development Program and scored a record-breaking tally of 116 points for the U.S. Under-18 team, which was previously held by the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane with 102 points.

The top prospect took on a huge challenge in this all important draft year.

Instead of continuing his development in his home country, Matthews opted to move to Switzerland, to play for the ZSC Lions, in the National A-League. After just 14 games, the 18-year-old has recorded 11 goals and nine assists.

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Desire for a challenge boosts Auston’s Draft value

Matthews’ move abroad to culture his hockey is an unusual one for a North American skater, but he’s grasped the challenge to play in a top division and has successfully held his place in the team.

Teams can see that he is striving for success, which is a huge help to the low-end team likely to pick him up. His added year of competition in a foreign league, instead of playing in North America, also makes him a unique prospect by comparison to those who learn and develop their hockey in just the one country.

Today’s Slapshot reports an interview with Matthews in which he states that playing in Zürich will hopefully boost his chances of playing in the NHL next season:

“The experience of playing against men each and every night is a challenge. It is a very high-end, competitive and skilled league. I look at it as something positive for me to get to the next level.

“My goal is to play in the NHL next year. It is what I want to do. I really believe playing here [in Zurich] will help me.”

Finland v USA White - 2014 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp

Head coach of the ZSC Lions, Marc Crawford, has been very impressed with the wunderkind, as he expressed to USA Today:

"At times [Matthews] reminds me of Anze Kopitar, and at times, Jean Beliveau [because] of his reach and seemingly effortless stride.

"His awareness without the puck is a work in progress. But I can tell you that when you show him something he makes the adjustment immediately. Wow, is that impressive.”

Sweden v USA White - 2014 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp

There aren’t many NHLers who have spent time with the ZSC Lions, with Reto Berra and Mark Streit highlighting the handful, but this seems to be changing in recent times.

The Lions have been pumping out some high-end youth players in recent years with Kevin Fiala, Sven Andrighetto, Jonas Siegenthaler and Denis Malgin all having spent their development years in Zürich.

Will he still go top pick?

Yes. There’s very little doubt that Matthews will not be the first overall pick in the 2016 draft. His decision to play abroad, instead of in the more culturally relevant North American minor leagues, was a bold one but is proving to boost his prospect value.

Sweden v USA White - 2014 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp

Which team looks likely to pick up the Arizona-raised winger?

They may currently be 25th in the overall standings, but the Toronto Maple Leafs will finish last in the overall standings, if not very, very close to the bottom.

Those around them like Calgary, Edmonton, Columbus, Colorado and Carolina all have a better chance of stringing a good run of games together at some point in the season. It is difficult to see where Toronto might pick up a decent run of results.

Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs

However, there is the Draft Lottery to consider, which puts the Edmonton Oilers in pole position to grab their fifth first overall pick in just seven seasons.

Matthews is highly regarded as a prospect and has only heightened the hype with his success in Switzerland. He looks certain to achieve his dreams of playing in the NHL next season.

Just how good is Auston Matthews? Give your opinion in the comment box below!

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