Top Draft prospect Auston Matthews in Switzerland (Credit: ZSC Lions)BUFFALO --
The most important job interview of Auston Matthews' young career took place Tuesday at the NHL Scouting Combine at First Niagara Center when the projected No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft met with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto has the No. 1 pick in the draft, which will take place June 24 and 25 at First Niagara Center. Matthews, a native of Scottsdale, Ariz., is looking to become the first American-born player selected No. 1 since Patrick Kane to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007.
Matthews, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters, thought the interview was very businesslike.
"I think the meeting and interview went well," Matthews said. "It was a get-to-know-more-about-you kind of thing. I wasn't asked anything that was out of the ordinary; nothing really to throw me a curveball."
In addition to the scouting staff, Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello was present at the interview and listening to every word.
"Mr. Lamoriello didn't ask me any questions but was just observing and listening," Matthews said.
Matthews this season played for Zurich in the National League A, Switzerland's top professional league. He had 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games, won the league's Rising Star award and was second in voting for most valuable player.
By now, most of his accomplishments have been reported over and over. In an interview with NHL.com, Matthews provided 5 things you might not know about him.
1. Matthews was at one time better at baseball than hockey.
Matthews: "I was really into baseball because my dad and grandpop played it growing up. I really enjoyed hitting the most, and that was really my strong suit. I enjoyed catching as well. It's kind of different because usually in hockey it's dad who takes you to the pond, but it's a little different coming from Arizona. My dad (Brian) played baseball in college. I did enjoy baseball, and it was certainly something I liked to play, but hockey would become my No. 1 passion."
2. Matthews attended his first hockey game when he was 2 years old and began playing the sport four years later.
Matthews: "My father and uncle (Billy Matthews) took me to my first Phoenix Coyotes' hockey game when I was 2 years old. I can't remember much back then, but as the years went on, I remember thinking what a fast-paced game it was. It was really fun to watch, and once I started playing, I was intrigued even more. I can't really explain it. It was just a passion to play the game that came over me."
3. A broken femur sustained as a member of USA Hockey's Under-17 National Team Development Program provided valuable lessons this season when he was injured with Zurich in Switzerland.
Matthews broke his femur in his second game with the U-17 NTDP after a knee-on-knee collision on Sept. 14, 2013. He returned to the lineup Dec. 6, 2013, and finished with 12 goals and 33 points in 24 games; he had 12 goals and 17 points in 20 games for the U-18 NTDP later that season. Matthews sustained a back injury this season in Zurich and missed six games, but he knew what needed to be done after going through the previous injury with the USNTDP.
Matthews: "The injury with the U-17's was a little more serious since I needed surgery. Obviously, that wasn't the best time in my life. I was just beginning my career with the NTDP in Ann Arbor (Mich.), and that happened. I think it made me stronger mentally and stronger as a person. When I was injured this year in Zurich, it was tough, but just going through what I did at the NTDP, and knowing how to handle it, was important. I did whatever I could do for my back through rehabilitation. I was motivated to get back and start playing again. The most important thing was listening to the doctors and doing whatever I could do within the rules, whether it was going out and shooting on your own or sitting down, stick-handling and doing whatever you can to keep sane."
4. Matthews was completely flustered when fans began chanting his name after he scored the game-winning goal for Zurich against rival Davos on Oct. 9.
Matthews scored two goals, including the game-winner 3:32 into the third period to give Zurich a 3-2 win.
Matthews: "It was probably one of the most memorable games of the year because it was the first time Zurich and Davos played since the 2015 National League A final. I was able to score two goals, and the game-winner off a great pass from Robert Nilsson. After the game, the fans began chanting my name and jumping up and down. I was just looking up into the crowd and saying, 'This is crazy.' But what I didn't know was that when the crowd does that in Switzerland, you're expected to return to the ice by yourself and salute the fans. I had no idea, and everyone was yelling at me that I had to go back. I was so confused as to what was going on, but once I figured it out, it was pretty special."
5. Ema Matthews helped her son celebrate his 18th birthday on Sept. 17 by preparing a favorite meal for him and his Zurich teammates.
Matthews: "I love mom's chicken tortilla soup; she made it for the team for my birthday in Zurich, and afterwards the wives of almost half the players were asking for the recipe. They all liked it a lot. It was pretty neat and it kind of broke the ice on my birthday."