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.
Many NHL scouts believe that if Auston Matthews was eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, he might have given Jack Eichel a run for his money as the No. 2 choice.
Born Sept. 17, 1997, Matthews missed the cutoff for the 2015 draft by two days. The native of Scottsdale, Ariz., an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's September players to watch list for the 2016 draft, is playing for Zurich in Switzerland's top professional league this season after spending the previous two seasons with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program. He's entered the week tied for the league lead with nine goals in 11 games.
|AUSTON MATTHEWS, Center
While Matthews has performed well against men overseas this season, Eichel has had a solid start to his NHL career with the Buffalo Sabres. That begs the question, are Matthews and Eichel more similar or different in their approach and style?
"I guess it's a little like asking me to compare Rembrandt and Picasso," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "They both make your art gallery better."
Gregory saw plenty of Matthews last season when he set single-season NTDP records with 55 goals and 116 points in 60 games. This season he's been viewing video of Matthews as often as he can. He also closely followed Eichel's path to the draft last season as a freshman at Boston University.
"Both these players do everything very well," Gregory said. "So when you say one is better at this or that it certainly doesn't mean that the other is not capable of that kind of play. I think that in the case of Auston Matthews, he plays a more consistent, high-energy type of game. He considers engaging physically sooner than Eichel would. When you combine this with his excellent hockey sense and his puck skills, it's a deadly combination."
Eichel has two goals and 12 shots on goal in five games with the Sabres. His average ice time per game of 19:14 is second among NHL rookies.
"Eichel has a more controlled pace to his skating and stride and uses the cerebral part of the game before anything else," Gregory said. "He sees things almost before they happen and uses his tremendous puck skills to take advantage of the opportunity he sees. He can certainly be physical when he needs to be as well."
Danton Cole, who coached Matthews at the NTDP, said there are more similarities than differences.
"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."
Don Granato, who coached Matthews with the NTDP U-18 team last season, said he knew within three weeks of coaching Matthews that he had a legitimate shot at being selected with the first pick of the draft.
"His inner drive is ridiculous," Granato said. "There's not a situation when he puts his skates on that he doesn't want to win, whether it's a faceoff or race to the corner. He's got an inner drive that's comparable to Zach Parise, Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby. He's got that inner burn that just drives him to win every battle."
Greg Rajanen of NHL Central Scouting said he believes that Eichel and Matthews are power forwards with their own unique styles of creating offensive opportunities.
"My opinion is that Eichel is a two-way power forward who can produce points, and Matthews is a two-way skilled forward who can produce points," Rajanen said. "Both are high-end players."