TORONTO - Auston Matthews may be considered by many to be among the best players not in the NHL, but that distinction will not help him make the Team North America roster in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
"He's got an uphill road," said Peter Chiarelli, one of the two general managers for Team North America, a combination of the best 23-and-under players from Canada and the United States. "He hasn't been ruled out by any means, but he has an uphill road."
Matthews, 18, is playing for Zurich in National League A, the top pro league in Switzerland, and is the odds-on favorite to be selected No. 1 in the 2016 NHL Draft this June. He missed the cutoff to be eligible for the 2015 Draft by two days.
The first two picks in the 2015 draft, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres, were among the 16 players named to Team North America on Wednesday.
The remaining seven players to fill the roster will be named by June 1.
To hear Chiarelli tell it, it is a long shot that Matthews will be on that list.
"We haven't ruled him out, but there are going to be some pretty good players (that are going to be) left off this team," he said.
Matthews has been dominant against players several years older than him in one of the best leagues in Europe. He has 25 goals and 47 points in 36 games and sits No. 10 on the scoring list for the first-place Lions. He missed six games because of injury and another four to compete at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. He tied for the tournament lead with seven goals and helped the U.S. win the bronze medal.
"We've had a lot of viewings of him," Chiarelli said. "We know what he is. He's got some obstacles because he hasn't played in the League. That may sound unfair because the kid is a talent; he has the strength, the skill and the speed."
Chiarelli attributed the adjustments McDavid and Eichel have had to make at the NHL level as to why he could ultimately decide to leave Matthews off the roster.
"Having seen how long it took Connor to get up and running and having seen how long it's taken Jack, it would be unfair to Auston to expect him to get up and running against that level of competition on NHL rinks," Chiarelli said. "We're talking a three-game round robin here."
Matthews' best bet to make the team may be as the 13th forward, a specialty player who can be deployed on the power play and used to provide a boost by playing in favorable situations.
"When you can inject that into a lineup, that will give you a bump, especially in a short tournament," Chiarelli said.