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Matthews seeking redemption for U.S. at 2016 WJC

by Mike G. Morreale

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- When Ron Wilson watches center Auston Matthews on video, he sees a player already good enough for the NHL.

Wilson, coach of the U.S. National Junior Team, now looks forward to the opportunity of seeing the 17-year-old live and in person during the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center from Aug. 1-8. Matthews and 38 other players are auditioning for a chance to represent their country at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Finland from Dec. 26, 2015, through Jan. 5, 2016.

"He's only 17 but he can see the ice so well and he moves the puck and goes to the open ice all the time, so I just think he's a player that is ready to play in the NHL," Wilson said. "I'm really looking forward to coaching someone like this."

Matthews, the projected No. 1 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo, N.Y., had one goal and three points in five games for the United States at the 2015 WJC in Montreal and Toronto. The team finished fifth in the tournament, something that didn't sit well with Matthews.

"I'm extremely determined to make the team because it was a disappointing finish last year," Matthews said. "I think it's something we'll use as motivation for this year's tournament."

The native of Scottsdale, Ariz., was born Sept. 17, 1997, missing the cut for the 2015 draft by two days.

"I attended the [U.S. junior evaluation] camp last year, so I'm pretty familiar with the whole process and the incredible history of Lake Placid," Matthews said. "I have not personally spoken to coach Ron Wilson, but his resume speaks for itself and I have no doubt he will get the absolute most out of the group."

Wilson said he will have enough players to field two teams at camp, but he will rotate three centers on four lines for each squad. One of those centers will be Matthews (6-foot-1, 194 pounds), who will open the camp playing for Team White. Wilson will ultimately form one team after a round of cuts Aug. 4.

"I will do it this way so that nobody will leave and say, 'Well, he got to play with Auston Matthews and that's why he looked so good,'" Wilson said. "Having three centers will allow me to rotate the lineup so everyone will have a fair shot to be beside everyone."

Matthews had a productive 2014-15 season; he established two records with the U.S. Under-18 National Team Development Program for goals (55) and points (117), represented his country at the 2015 WJC, won a gold medal as an alternate captain for his country at the 2015 IIHF U-18 World Championship, and scored a goal in an exhibition game for the U.S. Men's National Team at the 2015 World Championship.

He's been keeping busy this summer to remain in top shape.

"I've been working out four or five times a week at home and skating three times a week with some junior, college and pro players," Matthews said. "I've also worked with (NHL performance and skills coach) Darryl Belfry quite a bit this summer in trying to create more space for myself when I'm on the ice and being more effective when I do have the puck."


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