Have you met Auston Matthews? No, that first name isn’t spelled incorrectly, and no, that’s not a millennial car salesman’s name (none that I know). He’s actually a pretty solid hockey player – US born, US bred – with a good bit of international hockey experience even at the young age of 18.
He grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona where his favorite player was Shane Doan. Yes, Coyotes fans exist, and the team has existed long enough that the impact is fully realized in this 6’2″ multi World Junior Champ.
Presently Matthews is a member of the Zurich (the “Z”) Lions of the Swiss National League A. The remarkable season has been highlighted by the recent victory in the Swiss Cup competition, a season-wide, single elimination tournament that pointed to the Lions being the best team in Switzerland.
Indeed the USHL alum choosing to play in a Swiss league rather than the Canadian Hockey League or even the collegiate ranks is an odd path to take. But he’s not an atypical hockey player in both makeup and past. Remember, he’s from the desert.
In late September of 2015, NHL scouts immediately took notice of the “type” and “potential” of the left-shooting centerman.
“He has all the tools to become a world-class, two-way center in the mold of [Chicago Blackhawk scaptain] Jonathan Toews or [Los Angeles Kings center] Anze Kopitar,” said Thomas Roost, who evaluates draft prospects in Switzerland for NHL Central Scouting.
Matthews is listed as the only A-rated player from Switzerland on NHL Central Scouting’s September players to watch list, which was released Tuesday, meaning he’s expected to be taken in the first round of the draft at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y., on June 24-25, 2016.
“Matthews isn’t that flashy at first sight and you need to dig a bit deeper into his plays to discover the true value of him,” Roost said. “He has the ability to make his linemates better. He moves the puck very well, has very good hand-eye coordination, quick hands for plays in tight around the net, and excellent puck control. He thinks the game ahead of a normal good player.”
The evaluation by Roost is similar to what North American scouts were saying last season when Matthews had a record-setting season with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under-18 team. His 55 goals and 117 points broke records set by Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (52 goals, 102 points) in 2005-06. Matthews also was named most valuable player and best forward while helping the United States win the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
Indeed he seems to be in the evaluation pool with some deep, highly successful comparisons. I’ve watched him play twice (both in team defeats), and in both cases he was the most consistent playmaker on the ice — hands down.
And just this month the scouts have Auston Matthews remaining the top pick in the draft.
1. (1) Auston Matthews, C, Zurich (Swiss), 6-2, 190 lb. Has 24 goals in 32 games in Swiss Elite League. Leafs top scout Mark Hunter on hand for a viewing this week.
Yet for all his goodness, and potential I think Matthews is valuable to one team in particular, and if you are this year’s draft winner (potentially last place Edmonton as well) you trade that pick to…the Arizona Coyotes.
The recent Yotes history is littered with terrible things. Poor attendance, city arguments, building arrangements, and financial problems all dot the map of this hockey franchise. Just Google “Arizona/Phoenix Coyotes Trouble” and you’ll fall quickly down the hole where there is no white rabbit or happy ending. But inking a homegrown player like Auston Matthews might do well to assist in the resurrection of a franchise needing to get better while simultaneously earning a historically great player. Or so the rom-com script attached to this fantasy would suggest.
In a great feature via the NY Times, Matthews and his family discuss, among many things, his early life as a Coyotes fan.
Matthews was born on Sept. 17, 1997, nearly two weeks later than his mother’s due date and two days after the Sept. 15 cutoff that would have made him eligible for the 2015 N.H.L. draft.
For most teenagers, that distinction would not have mattered much, but Matthews has shown a preternatural ability on the ice since he was a little boy, according to his mother, Ema. Early on, it became clear that professional hockey was his goal.
Matthews went to his first Coyotes game when he was 3 and “always had a stick in his hand,” Ema said, ultimately giving up his other sports love, baseball, to focus exclusively on hockey in middle school.
“Once it was clear that he was really into hockey and really good, I was thinking about it like most mothers: Great, he can get a scholarship to college,” Ema said. “But this isn’t about me. When we saw his love for the game and his passion, we decided as a family that we wanted to support that even if it was in a different way.”
Imagine a player, from your area, returning home to play for a team he himself loved from infancy. A feat few Americans have been able to accomplish. This would be a game-changer for the Coyotes. A storyline ripped from a Disney film (coming to theaters in 2021), Arizona is a team that would desperately entertain the notion of Matthews in the desert. But as we plow through the remainder of this season keep in mind that trading away that first pick would be a game-changer for the team on the other end as well.
If you’re Edmonton, Columbus or any team nailing the coffin shut with a #1 overall pick, you’re calling the Coyotes to get Oliver Ekman Larsson in return. Easily one of the most complete defenders today, OEL tops most lists of “gotta haves” and this is a young player that takes full veteran minutes in stride. Barring injury, he’s someone to build a defensive backstop around. Something most teams are desperate to welcome. He doesn’t fix an entire team, but he’s an A+ start.
Auston Matthews for OEL isn’t a lock. Still a lot of time left before the lotto and evetnual draft, but if I’m calling the shots — from North to South, East to West — you make the call to trade the pick. In a wild twist, the Yotes could win the draft, keep both players, but God loves the Oilers on one day out of 365 possible calendar dates — draft lotto day — and that does not bode well for anyone retaining that coveted first overall.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Draft him or trade him? Give me your scenarios.
Photo via Getty Images. All rights reserved.