TORONTO -- If the projections hold true and Boston University freshman Jack Eichel isn't the first American-born player since 2007 to be the No. 1 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, than Auston Matthews could very well earn that distinction in June 2016.
Even though the team at NHL Central Scouting is wrapping up its final meeting to project the top 210 North American skaters for the 2015 Draft this week, scouts always have time to talk about the top underage players waiting in the wings.
Matthews, born Sept. 17, 1997, missed the cut for the 2015 Draft by two days. If he was eligible, most scouts believe he'd be among the top five selections along with Erie Otters captain Connor McDavid and Eichel, in the first round on June 26.
Don Granato, who coaches Matthews on the United States National Team Development Program under-18 team in Ann Arbor, Mich., said the future is limitless for Matthews, a 6-foot, 199-pound left-handed shot from Scottsdale, Ariz.
| Auston Matthews Team USA (Courtesy: Tom Sorensen)
"He brings everything you want from the coaching side of things because he's so internally motivated to work," Granato said. "There's so much detail in his game in terms of effort, focus and commitment. I'm convinced he always would have been a talented kid. But the reason he's become an incredible player is that drive and focus."
Matthews leads the Under-18 USNTDP with 43 goals, 50 assists and 93 points in 50 games. He missed five games while representing the United States at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship in January, scoring one goal and three points. Eichel had 38 goals, 49 assists and 87 points in 53 games for the U-18 USNTDP in 2013-14.
"Auston plays a different game than Eichel," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "He's a strong, powerful player. Eichel does is with power and grace with that long stride; Auston does it with pure strength and quickness. It's a different kind of quickness. His compete level is off the charts and he thinks the game so well."
Eichel said he feels Matthews has a very bright future; one that will likely begin much sooner than later.
"He's an unbelievable player," Eichel said. "He's strong on the puck, so skilled, and makes plays at such a high speed. He's a very special player."
Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting, said he believes Matthews might have been among the top three if eligible for the 2015 Draft.
"If he was in this year's draft he'd be right up there and talked about in the same breathe with [McDavid and Eichel]," Marr said. "Another player moving up quickly and who plays on the same team [as Matthews] is Matthew Tkachuk. The thing about Auston is, game in and game out for two years now, it's been the same thing. He only knows one speed and that's full speed, and he does it at practice and game situations."
Tkachuk, the son of former NHL player Keith Tkachuk, is second on the U-18 USNTDP with 80 points (34 goals, 46 assists).
Two other players who will keep Matthews and Tkachuk honest next season leading up to the 2016 NHL Draft are Sarnia Sting defenseman Jakob Chychrun and Finland's Jesse Puljujarvi. Born in Sweden, Puljujarvi plays right wing for Karpat Oulu in the Finnish League. He was the youngest player at the 2015 WJC while representing Finland.
"The 2016 draft is going to be real interesting," Gregory said. "There are some very good players. It might even be deeper for a longer period of time than this year's draft but that's something you really can't say or know until you watch these players a full season."