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Matthews excited to help U.S. prepare for 2016 WJC

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

BOSTON -- Auston Matthews is looking forward to his return to the United States this week for USA Hockey selection camp for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

The camp will be held at Agganis Arena in Boston from Dec. 15-18.

Matthews, an 18-year-old left-shot center, is expected to be the first pick of the 2016 NHL Draft. He has 13 goals and 23 points in 21 games with Zurich in National League A, Switzerland's top professional league. He received an A rating from NHL Central Scouting in its November players to watch list.

"I'm very excited to see the guys and looking forward to having a great week of preparation as a group in Boston," Matthews told NHL.com.

U.S. coach Ron Wilson said he's looking forward to working with Matthews.

"He's rated very high and he definitely is as advertised," Wilson said. "But we have to make sure we give him a couple of linemates, and I'm sure we will, that will put him up at the top. We're going to have to lean heavily on Auston to be successful."

Matthews is one of seven players at camp that played on the U.S. team that finished fifth at the 2015 WJC. Matthews had one goal and two assists in five games.

Does he feel capable of taking on more of a leadership role with the 2016 team?

"There are a lot of guys who will be leaders on this team," Matthews said. "For me, I plan to take experience from last year and apply it as best I can. Not just for myself but to help new teammates who will experience this for the first time to help their transition with all that will be happening around them.

"I'm willing to take on whatever role is deemed necessary to help the United States and my teammates succeed."

Also back from the 2015 WJC team are goaltenders Brandon Halverson (New York Rangers) and Alex Nedeljkovic (Carolina Hurricanes); defensemen Zachary Werenski (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Brandon Carlo (Boston Bruins); and forwards Nick Schmaltz (Chicago Blackhawks) and Sonny Milano (Columbus Blue Jackets).

Three players with junior eligibility not invited to the camp are Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin, and forwards Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings. Larkin probably was the best player for the United States at the 2015 WJC with five goals, seven points and a plus-7 rating in five games.

Larkin told NHL.com that Matthews has it in him to help the United States elevate its team play.

"I'm not trying to put any pressure on him, but I think it's his team," he said. "There are other young guys from last year's team like Werenski, Carlo and Milano who are returning and have been through it who will also provide a lot."

The 2016 WJC will be played Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2016 in Helsinki, Finland. But Matthews, who has played all season on the larger, European-size ice, said he doesn't believe that gives him any particular edge.

"Playing on bigger ice this year will help me, but I'm not sure it gives me any advantage," he said. "Most players will have played on big ice at one point or another and many are also playing in Europe on a bigger surface."

Matthews said the upper-body injury that kept him out of the Zurich lineup for six games in late November is behind him and he's focused on playing the best he can.

"It's not fun missing games and not being out there with my teammates," he said. "But I'm feeling great now and excited to be back. The key to success at the World Juniors is to come together as a group as quickly as possible; just be in the moment."

Three players selected to the camp roster are among the top five scorers in the Ontario Hockey League. Christian Dvorak (Arizona Coyotes) of London leads the league with 65 points, and teammate Matthew Tkachuk is second with 59 points. Alexander DeBrincat of Erie leads the league with 33 goals and ranks fourth with 56 points. Tkachuk and DeBrincat are A-rated prospects for the 2016 draft.

The U.S. opens play at the WJC Dec. 26 against Canada in a Group A preliminary-round game. Also in Group A are Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland. Russia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Finland and Belarus are in Group B.

"I should be able to lend a lot of my experience to these guys and we're going to have fun," Wilson said. "We're going [to Finland] with the mindset that we're expected to be there and we will be and we're going to try to play an offensive game."

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U.S. WJC CAMP ROSTER

GOALTENDERS: *Brandon Halverson, Sault Ste. Marie, OHL (New York Rangers); Luke Opilka, Kitchener, OHL (St. Louis Blues); *Alex Nedeljkovic, Niagara, OHL (Carolina Hurricanes); Tyler Parsons, London, OHL (2016 draft eligible)

DEFENSEMEN: Louis Belpedio, Miami University, NCHC (Minnesota Wild); *Brandon Carlo, Tri-City, WHL (Boston Bruins); William Borgen, St. Cloud State University (Buffalo Sabres); Ryan Collins, University of Minnesota, BIG 10 (Columbus Blue Jackets); Brandon Fortunato, Boston University, H-EAST (2016 draft eligible); Chad Krys, USNTDP, USHL (2016 draft eligible); Charlie McAvoy, Boston University, HEA (2016 draft eligible); *Zachary Werenski, University of Michigan, BIG 10 (Columbus Blue Jackets); Casey Fitzgerald, Boston College, H-EAST (2016 draft eligible)

FORWARDS: Kieffer Bellows, USNTDP, USHL (2016 draft eligible); Paul Bittner, Portland, WHL (Columbus Blue Jackets); Anders Bjork, University of Notre Dame, H-EAST (Boston Bruins); Brock Boeser, University of North Dakota, NCHC (Vancouver Canucks); Alexander DeBrincat, Erie, OHL (2016 draft eligible); Ryan Donato, Harvard University, ECAC (Boston Bruins); Christian Dvorak, London, OHL (Arizona Coyotes); Scott Eansor, Seattle, WHL (2016 draft eligible); Ryan Hitchcock, Yale University, ECAC (2016 draft eligible); Clayton Keller, USNTDP, USHL (2016 draft eligible); *Auston Matthews, Zurich, SUI (2016 draft eligible); Ryan MacInnis, Kitchener, OHL (Arizona Coyotes); *Sonny Milano, Lake Erie, AHL (Columbus Blue Jackets); *Nick Schmaltz, University of North Dakota, NCHC (Chicago Blackhawks); Matthew Tkachuk, London, OHL (2016 draft eligible); Colin White, Boston College, H-EAST (Ottawa Senators).

* - returning player

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