What is next for Auston Matthews?

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What is next for Auston Matthews?  That is the question many are asking after the highly-touted Matthews and his number one seeded ZSC Lions were stunned on Thursday by SC Bern, 3-0.  The eighth-seeded SC Bern swept the powerhouse Lions, knocking them out of the Swiss League playoffs and to an early date with golf courses, lake houses, and off-ice workouts. 

Under normal circumstances, the end of the season for the ZSC Lions would not attract much fanfare, but Matthews changed all of that when he decided to take his show on the road. Shunning the traditional routes of the NCAA or CHL, Matthews signed with the ZSC Lions to play his draft year in Switzerland against more experienced and much older competition.  The decision to leave North America behind seemingly paid off.  I asked Dennis Schellenberg, Swiss scout for Future Considerations, about his thoughts on Matthews during his time with the Lions:

Matthews was one of the top players in the entire league. He showed his elite skills from the first game on and played in a very impressive and dominant way. He was so comfortable with the puck and was a constant offensive threat in nearly every game. In the course of the season, he really improved his own zone game under coach [Marc] Crawford. His shot is elite and was one of the best shot in the NLA, and the way he carried the puck through the neutral zone was outstanding. He never really looked like a kid among men and was part of the successful season of the ZSC Lions from the first game.

With such a scouting report, many wondered what the future could hold for Matthews with the Lions early departure.  It didn’t take long for Twitter to be aflutter with ideas and thoughts on what next, including the idea of Matthews joining the Western Hockey Leagues’ Everett Silvertips.

The Silvertips hold Matthews’ rights after selecting him in the third round of the 2012 bantam draft.  The 6’2 194-pound native of Scottsdale would have been a catch for Everett General Manager Garry Davidson. However, after speaking with the Western Hockey League office this afternoon, Matthews is indeed ineligible to play for the Silvertips this year:

In theory, Matthews could still end up playing in Everett if: a) the team that selects him at the 2016 NHL draft decides he needs some more time to develop, and B) he decides to stay in North America. 

But for this year, that is not an option.  So what is next for him this year?

Mostly likely Matthews’ next competitive hockey game will also be across the Atlantic.  The 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship begins May 6 in Russia. Matthews is a safe bet to get an invite to participate, as Jack Eichel did last year. Numerous media outlets reported on Eichel’s experience at the 2015 World Championship, and he spoke of the benefits of winning the Bronze medal for Team USA as well.  Eichel’s strong showing despite his youth in Prague likely helped build a strong case for Matthews.  And after the best teenage year ever in the NLA, Matthews can only be considered a professional hockey player that just hasn’t been through the NHL draft yet.  

A solid showing at the Wold Championship could also pave the way for a Team North America roster slot at the World Cup of Hockey.  The hot stove talk is Matthews would be a long shot to land on the wunderkind roster, but the idea has been floated, and he could easily be viewed as a bubble candidate.

And between these two tournaments, there is the little issue of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo.  Luckily for Auston Matthews, he won’t be waiting at the First Niagara Center long at all before his name is called and yet another chapter in this whirlwind year he has had continues. 

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