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World Championship

Worlds: Matthews inspires comparison to Toews

Foligno: Top 2016 NHL Draft prospect has talent, work ethic reminiscent of Chicago captain

by Carol Schram / Correspondent

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- United States center Auston Matthews hasn't played an NHL game, but he's making an impression on some players he could be competing with or against as soon as the 2016-17 season during the 2016 IIHF World Championship. 

Matthews scored the game-deciding goal in the shootout to give the United States a 2-1 win against the Czech Republic in Moscow on Thursday, a victory that propelled the U.S. into the semifinals. He leads the U.S. with five goals and eight points in eight games, and has worked his way up the lineup. On Thursday he centered the top line flanked by left wing Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings) and right wing Nick Foligno (Columbus Blue Jackets).

It was the second straight game Matthews centered the top line; he had three shots on goal and a plus-1 rating in 16:17 of ice time centering Larkin and Foligno in a 3-2 overtime loss to Slovakia in the final preliminary-round game on Tuesday. 

"We just felt, 5-on-5, that we could use a little more production," U.S. coach John Hynes (New Jersey Devils) said Tuesday of Matthews' promotion.

Matthews' offensive performance is one reason he earned the promotion. But his teammates have been impressed by all aspects of his game, from winning faceoffs to backchecking and being strong on the puck.

"He plays the right way at both ends of the ice," Foligno said. "His compete level is really good. I think that's going to carry him through to a long career in the NHL, because those are attributes that you either have or you don't. You can't teach them sometimes. So he's got it and the skill to go with it. He's going to be a dangerous player that I'm going to check really well one of these days down the road in the NHL."

Foligno even presented a lofty comparison for Matthews. 

"Sounds a lot like a Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks), if you ask me," he said. "It's a tough comparison. I don't want to put that on him, but when you watch him play -- I've gotten to play against Jonathan for a long time now -- and you kind of draw those comparisons.

Video: Get to know top NHL Draft prospect Auston Matthews

"He doesn't really blow you away sometimes with his flashiness but he's always on the score sheet. He's always making a difference in the game. You can kind of see that in Auston. So it's pretty exciting for whoever gets him in the draft."

That likely will be the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have the first pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, which will be held at First Niagara Center in Buffalo on June 24-25. 

One of his teammates with the Maple Leafs would be Canada defenseman Morgan Rielly, who got a close-up look at Matthews when the U.S. and Canada played in the first tournament game for each team. 

"He was a good two-way player," Rielly said after that game. "He's responsible, made some good defensive plays. … Whether he's coming to Toronto or not we'll see, but he's a great player."

Matthews opted to play this season for Zurich in National League A, Switzerland's top league. He had 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games, and was runner-up in voting for the league's most valuable player award. 

He's continued that strong play at the World Championship. 

"Auston's such a great player," Foligno said. "There's a reason why he's probably going to be the No. 1 player in this year's draft. 

"I've been super-impressed with him, actually. I'm not just saying that. He's about as well-polished an 18-year-old as I've ever seen."

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