It’s time to talk about Auston Matthews

It’s been a tough few weeks for the Leafs since the turn of the calendar – 2016 hasn’t been kind to them at all, and after dropping five of their last seven in regulation the club now sits just one point up on the Jackets for dead last in the NHL. 

While it should be noted the current gap between the cellar dwellers and the playoff bubble teams is not as significant as years past (think Buffalo and their dive to the bottom last season), the Leafs are now firmly in top pick territory and should remain there as they unload a few veterans next month. For that reason, it’s time to talk about first overall. It’s time to talk about Auston Matthews.

We can’t get into the first overall discussion without touching on the draft lottery, and this year things are a little different. Instead of just the top spot being determined by a numbers draw, the first three slots will be up for grabs. 

draftlottery

(This only took me four attempts, via NHL Lottery Simulator)

As it stands, the last place team again has a 20% chance of picking first, second last has 13.5%, third last 11.5% and so on. The odds obviously change for second and third pick depending on who wins the one before it. So, if things stay on course, the Leafs should have an 11.5% or greater chance to draft Auston Matthews.

It’s sometimes difficult to know if a number one pick is ready to be an impact NHL player right away. Phenoms like McDavid and Crosby obviously were, and the rest make the jump as well, but obviously some years are different than others. Nugent-Hopkins probably wasn’t quite as ready physically as a guy like McDavid, for example. 

So which end of this spectrum is Matthews closest to?

Well, let’s put it this way: There’s a strong argument out there that had Matthews been born just two days earlier and eligible for last summer’s draft, he’d be playing in the NHL already this season

Here’s what Bob McKenzie had to say about Matthews before this season got under way:

Scouts aren’t too concerned that Matthews has taken the unprecedented step of a potential No. 1 pick playing his draft year in the Swiss League‎ (for Marc Crawford in Zurich). Matthews only missed being eligible for last year’s draft by two days. Had he turned 18 on Sept. 15 instead his Sept. 17 birthday, he would most certainly have joined Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel in the NHL this season.
He’s a physically-mature, high-skill centre who projects, like McDavid and Eichel, as a No. 1 NHL pivot.

While quotes like that are exciting, it’s still sort of tough for many of us to get a read on just how good Matthews is. The last nine first overall picks have come from the CHL, and that usually means a little more exposure and an easier job for most of us in North America to make comparisons among peers. Matthews presents quite a different case, as he’ll be drafted from Zurich of the Swiss League after making the jump from the US NTDP last year. It’s a different path for a draft-eligible, but one necessitated by his level of skill and the waste of time that would have been him just beating up on kids all year in junior.

Matthews should easily step into the league next fall and be a major boost to a weak club immediately. If that club happens to be the Leafs he’ll likely join William Nylander and Mitch Marner, who’ll be doing the same. 

Yes, as painful as it is to watch this formidable Babcock-coached team skate their guts out every night but fall short due to a blatant lack of skill, take comfort in the fact they now have a solid chance at getting a major shot in the arm next season in the form of a trio of future stars. All they have to do is stay put, or, even better, just embrace the tank.

  • Gary Empey

    Will Auston Matthews remain the number one pick this year?

    My NHL Lottery Simulator

    They had the Leafs starting in fourth position

    First
    Carolina Hurricanes

    Second
    Calgary Flames

    Third
    Edmonton Oilers

    Leafs picked sixth.

  • silentbob

    If the Leafs do get the 1st pick and select Matthews (any other pick and Tkachuk is Leaf), and I know this will be unpopular, I don’t want to see him with the Leafs next year. I simply do not think and like seeing 18 year old KIDS playing in the NHL, and see value in taking time to develop further before joing the NHL.

    If he could join the AHL that’s were I’d put him, otherwise I’d leave him in Europe, until he can spend sometime in the AHL learning hte Leafs/Babcock’s system and then move him to the NHL in a year or two.

    For all the hype (and I do believe he’ll be a superstar player) Eichel is 4th in NHL scoring behind some good young players, but no one you expect to be on the level that Eichel is expected to reach – and all who spent time developing in lower leagues first.

    • BarelyComments

      Since he is not drafted from the CHL he will be eligible to play in the AHL next year, and I tend to agree with bob (in part)… Unless he blows away Babcock at training camp and clearly establishes himself as a top 6 centre I’d like to see him take a similar route to the NHL that Nylander is taking this year (albeit a year older)… Give Matthews 3/4’s of a season to learn the Toronto system and style with the Marlies (not to mention he will have been playing on european ice for the past year), and then bring him up at the deadline when 1. the Leafs will obviously have roster spots opening up again from selling. 2. He will have had time to master the system and dominate the AHL for a bit. and 3. We will be able to retain him on RFA for an extra season instead of wasting a year on another rebuilding year.

      • silentbob

        Good to know he could join the Marlies right away.

        I wouldn’t “go into it” assuming when he’d make the jump. Maybe he’d only need 3/4 of a season in the AHL, maybe he’d need 1 1/2 seasons, maybe 3. Who knows?

        I think the point and the goal should be to do it right, not on a schedule.

    • Gary Empey

      Do you really think Matthews would sign with the Leafs and allow them to send him to the AHL for a couple of years? He already said no to junior hockey. Eichel told the Sabres he would not sign if they planned to send him to the AHL.

      Given the choice between $900,000 in the AHL or $3 million in the KHL which would you take?

      • silentbob

        So if he is a “me, me, me. I want the play in the NHL and if you don’t let me I’m going to be upset” type of child then I think he absolutely NEEDS time to mature in the AHL.

        As I’ve said before, if I had anyway it would be impossible for Matthews to earn a spot out of training camp anyway. Pre-season is not the regular season. A rookie simply can not show that he is ready for the NHL during pre-season. The best a rookie should be able to do at training camp is earning a high spot on the call up list, and regular season call-ups are when rookies can show that they are ready for the NHL.

      • silentbob

        I say its Tkachuk not because its who I want, but who I think they’ll take. He is playing in London so he’ll be on Hunters radar. He is already playing with Marner. And if you look at his strenghts on paper, he is exactly the type of forward the Leafs like.

  • magesticRAGE

    I would definitely take Puljujarvi over Tkachuk, 100%.

    Matthews is too good for the AHL. He is too skilled, physically mature, and complete player. From what I have seen, he’s an upgrade to Eichel. He’s no normal teenaged player. The way he adapted in Switzerland, he’ll go straight to the NHL.