The precocious talent of Auston Matthews is hardly a mystery to Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger, whose 29-year-old son Justin faced off against the 18-year-old Team North America forward last season in Switzerland's top professional hockey league.
Matthews, the No. 1 pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2016 NHL Draft, and his young and talented Team North America teammates had lopsided wins against Team Europe in their two World Cup of Hockey 2016 pretournament games on Thursday and Sunday.
Boasting five of the past six No. 1 picks in the NHL Draft, including Matthews and Connor McDavid (No. 1 by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015), Team North America outscored Krueger's team, comprised of European players not from Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic, 11-4 in the two games.
Matthews turns 19 on Saturday, when the World Cup begins at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. He scored 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games this past season with Zurich in National League A, Switzerland's top professional league.
"Well I know Auston Matthews quite well because my son played in the Swiss league and I watched them play multiple times against each other last year," Krueger said Monday. "So I'm a fan of the Auston Matthews performances already and enjoy the skill set. And he's just one of so many. You know, you were trying not to be a fan as a coach watching the other team as you're trying to beat them."
Justin Krueger, 29, a defenseman who was selected by the Carolina Hurricanes in the seventh round (No. 213) of the 2006 NHL Draft, is playing his fourth season with Bern in National League A.
In his first professional season, Matthews was tied for fourth in the league in goals and tied for 10th in points, despite missing time to play for the United States at the 2016 World Junior Championships.
Though McDavid failed to score a point in the two pretournament games against Team Europe, 11 Team North America players had a point in the first period of its 7-4 win in Montreal on Sunday. Defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Dylan Larkin each scored twice.
"What an unbelievable future the National Hockey League has with these players spread out around the League," Krueger said. "I mean, the entertainment value, the athletic ability and the speed, and Auston Matthews, certainly at that age, what he was able to do already in these two games is quite astounding."
The oldest of Team North America's No. 1 draft pick, center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (23), was selected by the Oilers in 2011 and played for Krueger, who was associate coach with Edmonton in 2011 before becoming coach for the 2012-13 season.
"I was able to have a Nugent-Hopkins as a coach for a couple of years in Edmonton and I look at all those players and the way the game's evolved in the last 10 years since they changed the rules," Krueger said. "This is really the first generation of players that were six, seven, eight years old when we made all these changes, opened up the game, created more skill and speed, and it's exciting. What a future hockey has when I look at those kids."