TLN Draft Prospect Watch: Auston Matthews

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season is over, so hell yeah we’re kicking off TLN’s draft coverage right away. There’s no need to delay, considering we now know that the Leafs are guaranteed one of the first four selections in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. And with a 20% chance of winning the draft lottery and picking first overall, we may as well start with the almost consensus top prospect – Auston Matthews.

I say ‘almost’ because, somehow, there’s one scouting service out there that doesn’t agree Matthews is the top talent available in this year’s draft class. McKeen’s gives that honour to Tappara’s Patrik Laine, but literally everyone else believes that Matthews is the guy. HockeyProspect.com, ISS Hockey, and Future Considerations all have the Arizona-native ranked number one, while NHL Central Scouting lists Matthews as the top European skater.

Coming Up Matthews

So, about that – Arizona-native? European Skater? If you’re just now getting into the 2016 Draft, you may not have known that Matthews took a rather unusual development path for a young American forward. Despite his WHL rights held by the Everett Silvertips, and a shortlist of NCAA programs that included powerhouses like North Dakota, Denver, Michigan, Boston College, Boston University and Wisconsin, Matthews instead turned pro in Switzerland. In joining the ZSC Lions (based in Zurich), Matthews faced stiffer competition than he would have in either the WHL or NCAA, facing off against grown men as an 18-year old.

There’s no denying he faired pretty well. Matthews, a 6’2, 210lb centre with a left-handed shot, scored 24 goals and 46 points in just 34 games played. His 1.28 points-per-game clip trailed only Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s 1.37 pace (not counting former Leaf Robbie Earl and David Rundblad, who both scored at a higher clip but only played seven and 11 games respectively). 

Matthews looked just as good when representing his country at this year’s World Junior Championships, scoring seven goals and four assists in seven games. Those 11 points put Matthews in a tie for team lead with Matthew Tkachuk, also good for fourth in tournament scoring and only trailing that ridiculous Finnish trio of Laine-Aho-Puljujarvi. I’m sure Matthews would have rather a silver or gold medal for his efforts, but considering just how young Team USA was, that bronze-medal finish is still pretty impressive. 

When we talk about strengths and weaknesses in Matthews game, one of those lists is much longer than the other – that comes with the territory of being the best player available. Matthews is everything you would want in a top pick, with incredible hands, a great shot, and excellent skating ability. No, he may not been an absolute burner, but when you have as much on-ice smarts as Matthews, you don’t need to rely on simply blowing by the opposition. Two days removed from 2015 Draft eligibility, Matthews likely would have gone third overall behind Jack Eichel. That is not a knock – to be mentioned in the same breath as either of Connor McDavid or Eichel is an accomplishment in and of itself, and Matthews belongs in that discussion.

What Others Are Saying

From McKeen’s:

Matthews has dazzled with Zurich of the Swiss NLA; his combination of elite hands and skating ability fully on display in what has turned out to be the ‘ideal’ platform for him. He can wheel and deal and pick apart a league which is light on physical play, full of open space, and all too accommodating.
It’s not a knock against Matthews but instead a situation that may perhaps lead to developing some ‘bad habits’. His defensive play and intensity away from the puck has been noticeable in between the sparkling moments. Like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel this season, he will have to make certain adjustments upon arriving in the NHL next fall.

From ESPN’s Corey Pronman [Insiders, highly recommended]:

Matthews is a prospect of equivalent talent to Buffalo’s Jack Eichel at the time of Eichel being drafted, and is the favorite to be picked first. Matthews’ pure skill level is the highest in this draft class. The things he can do with the puck border on freakish, considering his frame. He also has above-average speed and great hockey IQ. He has been on a tear in the NLA since returning from the WJC. While some may scoff at the league and say his numbers aren’t impressive in a global sense, recent studies have shown the NLA has actually surpassed the top Finnish league, and is nearly on par with the AHL, with many ex-NHLers making Switzerland their post-North America destination.

More Than A Perfect Fit

We normally take some time during each prospect profile to talk a little about how this player or that player would fit in well with the Leafs going forward. Sometimes, we shy away from certain players because of a preference for another, or a glaring hole in their game, or maybe because there are so many similar players already within the system. None of this applies with Auston Matthews.

Toronto is already blessed with a couple blue chip forward prospects in William Nylander and Mitch Marner, but quite frankly, neither hold a candle to Matthews. We’re talking about a generational talent (you know, the kind that comes around every year) and a true face-of-the-franchise type player. In fact, Matthews is so good that he could single-handedly shift the Leafs offseason priorities – it’s not unreasonable to think that Toronto shies away from offering Steven Stamkos a big, expensive contract if they feel Matthews can fill that top-line centre role for the next decade at a significantly lower cost. 

If the Leafs win the lottery, Matthews is a no-brainer. While Laine and Puljujarvi may have closed the gap in recent months, Matthews is still the top prize available. Not only would Matthews immediately become Toronto’s best player, but he’d also change aspirations and expectations immediately – if all goes well, we could comfortably toss out all of the ‘Tank Nation’ jokes we haven’t made yet.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Thanks for the great read Justin. I pray we win the lottery so we can finally put to rest the STAMKOS to Toronto rumours.

    No to STAMKOS, yes to Tavares. STAMKOS is a great player, Tavares is a franchise player.

  • magesticRAGE

    Maybe Matthews and Kadri can team up on Eichel’s defensive play ;-P

    I agree that the Leafs (upon aquiring Matthews) should bypass seeking Stamkos, even though that’s a vastly unpopular opinion. My reasoning is a cap thing. If Matthews, Nylander, and Marner takes turns with the Calder trophy, the band will almost be guaranteed to breakup, they’d have to.
    We can already see it with Nylander, as he gets comfortable with the league, the points follow. He could have had 6 more assists if is line-mates could receive his passes. If Marner plays in the NHL next season, himself and Matthews would need contracts in the same year, which is following Nylander’s payday the year prior. With the rise of Reilly, the Leafs could run into having 5 All-Star players, surrounded by very good complimentary talent, and to fit under the cap.

    It’s not worth stressing over (having fun contemplating), but a great position as well.

  • silentbob

    If the leafs get the first overall pick and Matthews is still makes perfect sense to go after Stamkos.

    First, while Matthews looks like a can’t miss top line prospect, he could still be a bust. So the Leafs really do want to start making that switch from rebuilding to competitiveness (which I believe they do), going after Stamkos is still their best bet to do that.

    Also, even if Nylander, Marner, Matthews and Rielly all become franchise talents, they aren’t all going to be there next year or even the year after. Adding Stamkos makes the team better right away, helps the team improve faster and probably gest them into the playoff picture 1-2-3 years faster.

    Second, having someone like Stamkos who can will be your #1 center for 5-6-7 years allowing Matthews to be your #2 center makes the team that much better. If Matthews does live up to his potential, who do you concentrate put top defensive efforts into stopping? They could keep both Nylander and Marner on the wing or go 3 skilled centers deep. Having too many good centers to pick from is an excellent problem to have.

    Third, having a veteran like Stamkos around for the first half of Matthew’s career is only going to help Matthews. Why not get one of the best centers in the league to help a young guy you hope will become one of the best centers in the league?

    Fourth, sure in 5-7 years assuming everyone hits their potential there could be issues keeping Stamkos, Nylander, Marner, Rielly and Matthews and having a good enough team under them……but lets worry about that bridge when we get to it. Remember when the Leafs decided they could give away Rask because they had a future #1 in Pogge, how are they going to split playing time and pay two #1 goalies 4-6 years down the line?

  • CMpuck

    Matthews/Stamkos would be an ideal one, two punch, Matthews would be cost controlled for the first 7 years of his career which is the length of a Stamkos deal.

    If the Leafs don’t sign Stamkos they’ll end up over spending on one or two other lesser players. Rather over spend on an elite talent in Stamkos then penny pinch on non core pieces.

    The Leafs have been ass backwards overpaying scrub UFAs and extending depth players to bloated contracts. Depth means nothing until you have horses in place to carry the team. Land elite talent then worry about depth.

  • CMpuck

    Picking up a #1 Center as a free agent is a no brainer.
    As long as you don’t give a full no trade contract so if it is necessary to move the asset (Stamkoes) you can move him .

    As well the length of the contract after “the 35+ rule” kicks in is significant. If you can stay “on side” and can manage these areas of a Stamkoes contact, there is no question you sign Stamkoes if you can.

    Malkin playing with Crosby never seemed to be
    a significant problem. So the Stamkoes Matthews
    question is really a mute point.

    There is a significant possibility the Leafs won’t be able to draft Matthews, and if this is the case Kadri is our #1 center next year, if Stamkoes is signed this also makes another player on the roster expendable therefore opening up another possibility at acquiring another prospect. Win Win Win

  • FlareKnight

    Nice job. Although if we do win one of the 3 lotto spots, we’ll just need to do one profile considering how locked down the top 3 is XD.

    Still, not a bad way to kill time taking in the possibilities until the lotto hits.

    Of course it’s a slim chance for any team to get that top pick. But yeah, if it happens then we’ll have a lot of good smiles. Throw Matthews into the prospect mix and the forward group looks pretty darn good and next season gets even more exciting with him being one of the guys easily making next year’s team.

    I get the debate with Stamkos if we win the lotto. And it’s a fair one. Nylander already is playing like a good center. If you have Matthews as the long term #1 do you need Stamkos as the long term #2? Or vice versa with Stamkos the long term #1 and Matthews an unbelievable #2. Getting Matthews and then having Nylander as a spectacular #2 center is pretty good already. You do need to figure out where to put the budget.

    • silentbob

      Fortunately they can sign Stamkos this year and not have to worry about the budget for the next 4-7 years and then make much better, more informed decisions about their players and the budget.

  • Gary Empey

    I realize my top five in this years draft will not be the same as everyone’s. I don’t believe there is all that much difference between the next four after Matthews as of today. When considering my list I did not rate them as who is the best player today. I tried to project their future development at the NHL level.

    1. Auston Matthews – Center

    2. Matthew Tkachuk – Left Wing

    3. Patrik Laine – Left Wing

    4. Jacob Chychrun – Defence

    5. Jesse Puljujärvi – Right Wing

  • silentbob

    Now that mission number one has indeed been accomplished we wait for the next 444 hours or so do see how that dreaded ping pong ball or what ever contraption the small man Bettman is using.

    As I’ve stated on numerous occasions to quote Stone Cold Steve Austin the bottom line McMahon is the fact that the leafs get a helluva of a prospect.

    Now let me state that T.G. did a brilliant summary of the defence prospects we have. But they are just that prospects as Rielly has shown it takes 3 or 4 years to develop especially on defence. No coincidence that the Canadians Galchenyuk came into his own as a 30 goal scorer in his 4th year of plying his trade in the N.H.L. Btw Guy Lafleur didn’t become a star till his fourth year.

    That being the case I can feel a belief from a number of posters that next year is the year. NO, NO, NO. We are climbing Mount Everest here and we are at best at base camp 1 or 2. So the suggestion that next year we are playoff bound I think is wish ful thinking considering our goal tending and our kids are well exactly that kids.

    However the team under the new management is indeed moving in the right direction. I pray and hope that the pick we get with the exception of Matthews gets to learn the game in the A.H.L. for at least half a year.

    I still have a gut feeling that leaping Lou might try to pull off a move to move up in the draft with our Penguins pick. Lose Penguins lose. Let us not forget that Lou dealt off his 10th pick in the first round and got Cory Schneider who played in the all-star game this year.

    Now as a leaf fan of over 60 years now I can only say to the young leaf gun slingers out there , patience, patience, patience. The club is finally heading in the right direction. Can I get an Amen for that.

    • Harte of a Lion

      The clock is ticking, Go Marlies Go… Hopefully the Hockey gods will reward the Leafs …finally… For “playing the right way” as Babcock keeps saying.

      Tampa needs to shed contracts if they hope to sign Stamkos. I still think he prefers to stay there what with a great tax structure and the ability to go 5 games without scoring a goal with no media lynch mob waiting in the locker room. Vasilevski looks ready to take the reigns and if they can move Bishop and Carle, presto, Stamkos is signed.
      Perhaps Pittsburgs 1st and a prospect could get Bishop? If Tampa can’t make a deal they will lose one or the other in the expansion draft or they let Bishop walk for nothing after next season.b.

      A great goalie can make a poor team successful (Montreal) and if Shanahan wants the kids to progress, they need decent goaltending so their efforts are rewarded. There is nothing more disheartening that playing your hearts out and losing over a cheap goal. Or outplaying a team for the first 7-8 minutes to start a game and then watch the other team score on their first shot.

      Bishop won’t make the Leafs a playoff team but he will set them up to succeed for the next 5 years while the team drafts and develops their own Goalies.

      Fredrick Anderson is another option that might be less expensive to acquire and sign long term. Nonis owes us after the mess he left. LOL

      I believe that acquiring an NHL caliber starting goaltender before next season might be one of the most important moves Lamoriello should make outside of the draft.
      No to Stamkos, yes to Bishop/Anderson/Starter McGoalie, yes to Tavares in 2018.

      If and it is a BIG IF Bernier can get the cobwebs out from between his ears and play all season the way he has in March, he could be an answer for the short term however I have little confidence he can maintain it through a season. I like Sparks but he needs more seasoning in the minors and Bibeau is unproven but when he is “on” he is spectacular.

  • Gary Empey

    I’m not sure why so many posters in here are convinced that Stamkos is ready to leave Tampa Bay and move back to frozen Toronto in April.

    Let us not forget the case of Chris Bosh the all time leading Raptor scorer who has had two blood clots in the past few years. I’m no medical doctor but this sounds off alarm bells if Stamkos condition is similar to Bosh.

    • Gary Empey

      Re- ” alarm bells “

      Because of the possibility of blood clots reoccurring in the same area, the doctors removed the small rib up beside the collar bone. (Now that sounds like a lot of fun)

      Still if it became an ongoing, life threatening, career ending, issue, whoever signed him would be able to place him on long term injury reserve.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Give me Matthews AND Stamkos/Tavares. I’m needy..

    I’m also needy in the fact that I want a top 3 pick… there’s a better chance we pick 4th than top 3, but come on!

    I’d take any of those top 3 guys with a smile… and although there is 3-4 good players there at 4 – i’d be upset, REALLy upset..

    Now if they traded up into that 4-8 spot???

    Hmmm…

  • Gary Empey

    It Stamkos was in this year’s draft the conversation would be whether we take him with our 1st pick.

    If we could draft Matthews and sign Laine out-right would we do it? You can bet your sweet ass we would.

    So if he is available, (and as what’s49years says he may not be), then you sign him if you can. Roger’s/Bell have enough of our money that they can afford him. Great for the TV rating. The fans deserve a star player. The cap issues can all be worked out, it’s only money.

      • silentbob

        Hey DabGang…..If anyone’s got a messed up head it’s YOU! The guy you refer to has more brains in his baby toe than you have in your entire body. If anyone needs to get off this site it’s YOU.
        He knows what’s he’s talking about and has put in a lot of time watching this team over the years and I’ll bet he remembers watching the Leafs hoist the Stanley Cup just like I did. Guys like us don’t need to put up with the kind of garbage that comes out of the mouths of idiots like you so take a hike creep!

  • Harte of a Lion

    FYI – Puljujarvi led the World Jr’s in points as a draft eligible!!!

    Crosby didn’t do that. Tavares didn’t do that. McDavid didn’t do that. Matthews didn’t do that.

    How is this guy getting lost in the conversation???

    Shame…

    • Kanuunankuula

      He fizzled out badly towards the end of the season. Laine’s been more consistent.

      @Gary Empey: I would not take Tkachuk as #2, his numbers are so inflated by Marner and Dvorak. I would hesitate to take him at 4, let alone 2nd overall.

      • Gary Empey

        I don’t believe for a moment Marner and Dvorak are carrying Tkachuk. I think he is an integral part of the best line in the CHL. Someone has to do the heavy lifting on every good line. Whoever drafts him is looking at an above average top six winger for the next 15 years. He plays a rugged style NHL game, already virtually impossible to knock off the puck, and will have no trouble making the jump. For me the two young men from Finland have a little unknown quality. They will have to adjust to the smaller NHL ice surface, all the back-checking demanded in today’s game, no lanes to shoot or pass the puck, and the constant grinding play along the boards. If they had chosen to play in the OHL I would be able to evaluate their NHL game better. For me Tkachuk is the bird in the hand. Laine and Puljujarvi are the two in the bush, who could very well turn out to be super stars in the NHL.

        PS I do respect everyone’s opinion here. People here are great knowledgeable fans of the game of hockey. When we sometimes disagree it comes from an honest place.