The Maple Leafs added a major component for their future at the 2016 NHL Draft Friday night, taking highly-regarded centre Auston Matthews with the first overall selection. The 18-year-old Matthews – the consensus No.1 pick by draft prognosticators – gives Toronto a first-rate talent and adds notable depth to an up-and-coming group of impressive youngsters.
Born in San Ramon, Calif., and raised in Scottsdale, Ari., Matthews played the 2015-16 season with the ZSC Lions of the Swiss National League, posting 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games. He also represented his homeland twice last year, first playing for Team U.S.A. at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship (where he had seven goals and 11 points in seven games), then again at the 2016 IIHF World Championship, amassing six goals and nine points in 10 games. Prior to that, Matthews honed his skills with the U.S. National Development Team for two seasons, scoring 79 goals and 166 points in 104 games.
Matthews is seen by hockey evaluators as an elite two-way player, and someone an NHL franchise can use to build a Stanley Cup champion squad around. Of course, he won’t be asked to win a championship all on his own with the Leafs – fellow Toronto prospects Mitch Marner, William Nylander and others will help to that end – but he is Toronto’s first No. 1 overall pick since the organization selected icon Wendel Clark at that slot in the 1985 draft, and he’s been acclimating to the spotlight that comes with being a top talent for years now.
Matthews turns 19 in September, and many, if not most hockey people believe he’ll be in the Leafs’ starting lineup when the 2016-17 campaign kicks off a few weeks later. He was part of a history-making draft Friday – becoming the seventh U.S.-born No. 1 pick since the draft process began in 1963 – and with numerous boisterous Buds fans in attendance at First Niagara Center overjoyed to see him pull a Blue-and-White jersey over his head, he’s already providing Toronto with much to cheer about.