Auston Matthews, who many project to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, is playing for Zurich in Switzerland's top professional league this season. NHL.com will follow his journey leading to the NHL Draft this season with a weekly update.
Auston Matthews was not only making headlines in the Switzerland newspapers this past week, but also back home in North America.
Top-seeded Zurich, the team Matthews plays for in Switzerland's National League A, trails eighth-seeded Bern 2-0 in the opening round of its best-of-7 playoff series. Matthews, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of international skaters, has two assists and a plus-3 rating in two playoff games. Game 3 is Tuesday.
Despite the fact Zurich has an uphill climb to get back in the series, Matthews has stood out in each game.
"Zurich was slightly better than Bern in these first two games but the puck did not go their way," said Thomas Roost, who evaluates talent in Switzerland and Germany for NHL Central Scouting. "Matthews played very well in both games with [Robert Nilsson]. They produced, had great pressure and lots of scoring chances, but Matthews is a bit unlucky right now. He hit the post a few times.
"Matthews was the best player on the ice in both games, no question about it. He showed top-notch playmaking, excellent stick work, powerful plays along the wall and in the corners and was even double-shifted toward the end of both games."
Matthews (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), a left-handed center, has a six-game point streak, scoring one goal, 10 points and a plus-9 rating over that stretch. In 36 regular-season games, he finished tied for fourth in the league with 24 goals and a 1.28 points-per game average.
"It's just a question of time until Matthews and Nilsson begin scoring," Roost said. "The problem with Zurich at this point is the lack of secondary scoring. Some of the other Swiss forwards are not playing well at the moment."
Matthews, a native of Scottsdale, Ariz., was also a major talking point back home following the release of the preliminary 16-player roster for Team North America that will compete in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. There's a possibility Matthews could be selected to play for Team North America even though he hasn't yet been drafted by an NHL team. The final 23-player roster must be set by June 1.
Peter Chiarelli, one of two general managers for Team North America, feels the odds are slim.
"He hasn't been ruled out by any means, but he has an uphill road," Chiarelli said on Wednesday. "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. We've had a lot of viewings of him and 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."
Team North America, a new concept in international hockey, features the best players age 23 years and younger as of Oct. 1 from Canada and the United States playing against the best hockey nations in the world. The eight-team tournament will take place from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1 in Toronto.
"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."
It is worth noting that National League A, the top professional league in Switzerland, does consist of several former NHL players but the rinks are also bigger than those in North America.