Auston Matthews is ready for the next phase of his hockey career.
Matthews, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of International skaters for the 2016 NHL Draft, spent the 2015-16 season with Zurich in National League A, Switzerland's top professional league.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound native of Scottsdale, Ariz., took an unconventional approach, but it worked for him. He was fourth in NLA in goals (24) and points per game (1.28), and second in even-strength goals (19) in 36 games. He also had three assists, a plus-1 rating and 13 shots on goal in four playoff games, but top-seeded Zurich lost four straight games to eighth-seeded Bern in a best-of-7 first-round playoff series.
"We unfortunately couldn't get into a rhythm and elevate our game to playoff level [against Bern]," Matthews said. "Bern most definitely did, and we ended up paying the price."
He won the NLA Rising Star award and was second in voting for league MVP. He got six first-place votes, two fewer than former NHL forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard of Zug.
"Winning the Rising Star award was a very cool honor," Matthews said. "Especially considering some of the young players who were also in the running, some even on Zurich, like Pius Suter and Denis Malgin. They're great players and have bright futures."
Matthews is home training and preparing for the 2016 IIHF World Championship, which will be played May 6-22 in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia. It's an important tournament, considering it will be his first competitive hockey since Zurich's playoff run ended March 10.
Matthews took part in a question-and-answer session with NHL.com after returning home from Switzerland.
NHL.com: How would you describe your experience in Switzerland this year?
Matthews: It was a great experience in Zurich. It was an incredible group of guys to be around and get to know. I learned a lot and I felt my game improved as the year went along. I'll definitely remember some of the crowds we played in front of and the great atmosphere. I've never been in such loud buildings before, to where you're screaming at the guy next to you and he can't hear a thing. I had a blast playing in all the arenas.
NHL.com: Was it disappointing to see Zurich coach Marc Crawford fired after losing in the first round of the playoffs?
Matthews: At this level, hockey is a business. Coach Crawford is a great coach and I learned a ton from him this season. He really pushed me to become the most complete player I can be and I'm very fortunate to have worked with him. He pushed me to always be in good position, especially in the defensive zone. I want to be a complete player and always make improvements, and that was an area in my game I felt was not good enough or where I wanted it to be. It got much better as the season went along and there's still more room for improvement.
NHL.com: Are you looking forward to representing the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Championship in May?
Matthews: Absolutely. It's always an honor to put on the USA jersey and represent your country. To be able to do it at the men's level is an amazing experience. The majority of players at that tournament are playing in the NHL or in great European leagues, so to have an opportunity to get that experience even before possibly getting drafted is a great challenge, but an exciting one.
NHL.com: What are your thoughts on Team North America for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and what would it mean to you to get a chance to earn a spot on that team?
Matthews: From the 16 guys on the initial roster, there's a lot of speed and skill. They're definitely going to be an exciting team. There are so many players under 23 years old who have had great starts to their NHL careers. If I'm fortunate to earn a spot on the team, it would be a huge honor. But either way, my mindset going into the summer is the same. That's to work as hard as possible to be ready for next season and training camp.
NHL.com: What are you most looking forward to leading up to the NHL draft in June?
Matthews: I'm just enjoying the experience. It's been an exciting year for me and my family knowing I have an opportunity to be drafted. I'm just taking it all in stride.