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.
Longtime NHL scout Bob Crocker, who won the 2015 Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States on Dec. 17, considers Auston Matthews a slam dunk as the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Crocker would know. He won three Stanley Cup titles while scouting for the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings. He also helped Boston University to two NCAA championships as a key recruiter.
In Matthews, Crocker sees a player possessing several positive qualities. Matthews is currently with the United States national junior select camp in Finland where he is preparing for the IIHF 2016 World Junior Championship to begin Dec. 26.
"I saw Matthews last year and off of those performances, I don't see how he can't be No. 1," Crocker said. "I think he has it all. He has the size, the height and can skate like mad. He's got great hands and vision and hockey sense. He competes like a bugger, is strong, and I look for him to be the No. 1 pick."
"The consensus is that his going to Switzerland to play and play the way he has this year, that he will be No. 1 because he's having a great year."
Prior to leaving the Zurich Lions in Switzerland to join the U.S. select camp in Boston on Dec. 14, Matthews had three goals and four points in three games. NHL Central Scouting's Thomas Roost, who evaluates prospects in Switzerland and Germany, said the 18-year-old prodigy is certainly coming into his own among men in the National League A Division.
He will likely center the top line for the United States at the WJC, alongside left wing Matthew Tkachuk of London in the Ontario Hockey League and right wing Alexander DeBrincat of Erie (OHL).
"He has some world-class flashes in each game," Roost said. "What impressed me most before he left for America was his strong play with the puck; it's very hard to knock him off the puck and he wins a lot of puck battles along the boards and in the corners.
"Off this strong corner and board play comes an already developed body. His body (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) doesn't look like an 18-year-old body. This is one reason why I believe that he'll be great at the World Junior Championship as an underage player. It's also why I believe he could be playing in the NHL right now."
Former USA Hockey president Ron DeGregorio, who was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame at the same ceremony Crocker was honored in Boston, said it's fantastic to think a player who learned hockey skills in Scottsdale, Ariz., could go No. 1 in the NHL Draft.
"The movement by the NHL in expansion across the United States enable this to happen," DeGregorio said. "It brought more athletes into those territories. I go to Arizona on business quite a bit and I've heard about Matthews often. He's really a youngster in a man's body. If you've seen him, he plays more like a man at an early age. He got involved in our (National Team Development Program) and, frankly, is an excellent example of why that NTDP has become such an important piece to the development process we have.
"I was excited to meet him and I'm excited to watch him play."