Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the daily column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Each day I will bring you a new player profile or topical article in the lead-up to the 2015 NHL Draft. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow me on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Sports is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Draft”! For a Complete Listing of all our 2016 Draft Articles Click here.
Auston Matthews spent last season with the U.S. NTDP U-18. A late 1997 birthday, he was born just two days too late to be eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft. If he was those couple of days older he would have challenged Jack Eichel for the second overall spot – he’s that talented. Instead, Matthews is the near undisputed choice as the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft. While there are reports that others are challenging for the spot, at LWOS we believe that Matthews is the clear cut choice at first overall. Matthews broke many of the records set by Patrick Kane and/or Phil Kessel during his time with the U.S. NTDP, and scored more than Eichel did in his time with the program. This season, the Arizona native choose to play pro hockey in Switzerland during his draft year, rather than heading for the NCAA or CHL. Matthews had a strong campaign playing against men in the Swiss League and was one of his team’s and the league’s best players. This is no small feat considering that Switzerland’s top pro league is filled with former NHL and AHL players. He put up better than a point-per-game pace with 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games. He also finished just one goal short of an American record at the World Juniors, putting up seven goals and 11 points in seven games in the tournament. Matthews was the first player named for Team USA’s entry into this Spring’s IIHF Men’s World Championships, giving him the ability to show his skills against NHL players before this June’s Draft.
Auston Matthews Scouting Report: 2016 NHL Draft #1
Centre — shoots Left
Born Sep 17 1997 — Scottsdale, AZ
Height 6.02 — Weight 194 [188 cm/88 kg]
Auston Matthews is an exceptional skater. He has excellent top end speed, and given a quick first step and outstanding acceleration, he reaches that speed in just a few strides. Matthews has the ability to vary his attacks, speeding up to get by a defenceman and drive the net, or slowing up quickly to open passing and shooting lanes. He also has the agility to get through traffic, and the strength on his feet to fight through checks and get to the net.
What sets Matthews apart from other dynamic skaters is that he also has soft hands and the stickhandling ability to make plays while moving at top speed. He has the vision and passing ability to be a dynamic playmaker in the NHL. He spots open teammates and can make those tape-to-tape passes when they are in good scoring areas. Matthews also has high hockey IQ, making the right decision with the puck, and finding openings when he doesn’t have it. He possesses an accurate wrist shot and snap shot and pairs these with a quick release that makes them even more effective. Not just a finesse player, Matthews has the size to fight through checks, and as mentioned also has the powerful stride to drive the net and score goals and make plays in tight as well.
His defensive game could use a little bit of work, but this is a minor quibble for a player with the high end offensive potential of Matthews. Its already come a long way under Marc Crawford in Zurich. He’s improved his defensive positioning and his anticipation this past year. He can cut down passing lanes and create turnovers, which allows Matthews to be able to create offense in transition. That said, he is not a finished product and a good coach can teach him to improve his defensive game in the future. That said, the offensive instincts, vision and playmaking ability he has cannot be learned.
Matthews is NHL ready now, and can be a franchise centre going forward. The sky is the limit for him in terms of potential. In terms of style (and this is not a skill level comparison, just a stylistic one), Matthews compares with Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.
Below is a compilation of some of the highlight videos of Matthews available on youtube.
Be sure to check back tomorrow when I release the scouting report for LWOS #2 ranked prospect for this year’s draft.