Center Auston Matthews, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, is looking forward to playing a key role for the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Championship that begins Friday against Canada in St. Petersburg, Russia (9:00 a.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN).
Matthews, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound native of Scottsdale, Ariz., had 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games this past season for Zurich in National League A, Switzerland's top professional league. He played against older, more experienced competition, some of whom had played in the NHL, and succeeded. Matthews was second in voting for league MVP.
The 18-year-old will again be playing with and against older, experienced competition at the World Championship, and looks forward to the challenge.
"I played with Patrick Maroon (of the Edmonton Oilers) and Jordan Schroeder (Minnesota Wild) in our exhibition game against Finland on Tuesday and got better as the game went on," Matthews told Hockey This Morning on SiriusXM on Wednesday. "We have a young group and a few older guys who have won before and have done well. It should be an interesting tournament."
Matthews last played competitively for Zurich on March 10 when the Lions were eliminated in four games by Bern in the National League A playoffs. He had three assists, a plus-1 rating and 13 shots on goal in four playoff games.
He said his focus is on the World Championship and nothing else at this stage. Of course, Matthews was a topic of discussion April 30 when the Toronto Maple Leafs won the NHL Draft Lottery and the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft. He is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's ranking of international skaters eligible for the draft.
"Whatever happens, happens," Matthews said. "It's been a fun year. Just going through the whole draft process and I'm very excited. But I will stay in the moment. When the time comes (for the NHL Draft), that'll be very exciting, too."
Matthews said he has spoken to Buffalo Sabres rookie Jack Eichel on several occasions regarding what life is like in the NHL. Eichel was selected No. 2 in the 2015 draft.
Eichel and Matthews played for the United States at the 2015 World Junior Championship in Toronto. Eichel, who was captain of the team, had one goal and four points in five games. Matthews, the youngest player on the U.S. roster, had one goal and three points in five games.
"I had plenty of conversations with Jack and (Detroit Red Wings rookie) Dylan Larkin," Matthews said. "Jack gave me a lot of feedback on what he thought were the biggest challenges for him this season. He stressed how fast and physical the game is and that playing an 82-game schedule was a grind.
"He stressed the importance of eating right and making sure your body is in good condition to get through those 82 games."
Matthews missed 10 games for Zurich this season; six because of an upper-body injury and four while playing for the United States at the 2016 World Junior Championship in Finland. At the WJC he tied for the tournament lead with seven goals and helped the U.S. win the bronze medal.