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Matthews building defensive game in Switzerland

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

Auston Matthews, who many project to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, is proving to be quite the force for Zurich in Switzerland's top professional league this season.

NHL.com will follow Matthews' journey leading to the NHL draft with a weekly update.

Despite moving away from the comforts of home in Scottsdale, Ariz., the 6-foot-1, 194-pound left-shot center has scored four goals and six points in six games. He had one goal and a team-high six shots on goal in a 3-1 victory against EV Zug on Saturday.

AUSTON MATTHEWS, Center
Zurich, Switzerland
GP G A Pts Shots PIM +/-
6 4 2 6 28 0 +1

The Lions are third in the National League A with 17 points (5-3-2) through 10 games.

Matthews said he is learning to be a more responsible defensive player under Zurich coach Marc Crawford, something that is a necessity on a larger rink in Europe.

"He's been really focusing on my defensive zone play and positioning," Matthews said. "There's a lot of skill in this league. So if I can be responsible in our defensive zone it will lead to a lot more opportunities in the offensive zone. I am learning a lot."

Matthews was asked if becoming the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft is something he considers important. The 2016 draft will be held June 24-25 at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.

"It's a goal, but honestly it's more of a goal to be NHL-ready," Matthews said. "Coming into the draft there's a lot of hype and expectations but I'll keep my world small and work my hardest."

Thomas Roost, who evaluates draft prospects in Switzerland and Germany for NHL Central Scouting, already has been impressed with what he's seen from Matthews.

"His best asset is probably his hockey-sense," Roost said. "He makes plays in tight, something only a few players can do. What I also like is his blue-collar mentality. He wants to win all the time, even in practice, and he is self-critical with himself, analyzes his games and wants to improve every day. He definitely carries a good, smart head on his shoulders."

Matthews, who likely will play for the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, said he learned a lot from watching Buffalo Sabres rookie Jack Eichel last season. In particular, how to deal with being in the spotlight each time he steps on the ice.

"The way Jack handled himself last year with all the media attention with Connor McDavid was something I watched very closely," Matthews said. "He kept his world small. He didn't focus too much on what people were saying around him. He just worked hard and let the results follow."

Matthews, born Sept. 17, 1997, was born two days past the deadline for the 2015 NHL Draft. If he was eligible last year, most scouts believe he would have been among the top three selections. Danton Cole, who coached Matthews with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, said there are more similarities than differences between Eichel and Matthews.

"I think the power they both have; they are both very explosive," Cole said. "Auston maybe has a little more of a cerebral game and Jack will pound it through you a little bit. The thing that's very similar is that, with a big-time scorer or player, they are either a scorer or assist guy. I think both of them have the ability to be both of those things. Their size is very nice to have out on the ice."

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