Auston Matthews is going to be a trail blazer if he is drafted as expected first overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. For one, he'll be the first American since Patrick Kane in 2007 to go first overall. He'll be the first American from a non-traditional state to be selected at the top of the Draft as well.
And if recent indicators are true, he'll be the first North American skater in the 53 year history of the NHL Draft to be selected 1st overall after playing his draft eligible season overseas, as teams from Switzerland to Sweden vie for his services.
Earlier this month two of our writers debated the merits of NCAA versus CHL hockey for the purposes of player development. Should both of these leagues be concerned about the ability of European leagues to snag top-tier talent from North America?
Yes and no. Matthews playing in Europe should stand as a testament to the marked improvements Europe has made in elevating the quality of hockey played overseas. Leagues like the Swedish SHL, Switzerland's National League A, and of course, Russia's Kontinental Hockey League have all made strides to raise player salaries and upgrade practice and performance facilities.
What makes these leagues particularly appealing for cases like Matthews is that they offer two things North American leagues do not. First, they can pay players salaries worth more than the stipends and scholarships the CHL and NCAA can offer.
If you believe certain hockey agents, player salaries in Switzerland can range from 75,000 to 425,000 Swiss Francs (about $80,000 to $450,000 USD). In Sweden, the pay can go from 60,000 to 275,000 Euros ($65,000 to $300,000 USD). For one year of hockey, that's pretty darn good.
Second, European leagues don't have the same rookie barriers that North American leagues like the AHL have. As a result, Matthews can play against professional hockey players - including former NHLers - from the moment he takes the ice. Given how Matthews absolutely torched opponents while playing for the United States National Development Program (55 goals and 61 assists over 60 games), playing against grown men with professional experience is a logical next step for Matthews.
But lest fans of the CHL and NCAA fret too much about Matthews' "defection", the Scottsdale native is more likely the exception than the rule. Were Matthews draft-eligible this season, he would likely be battling with Jack Eichel for the second overall pick (as an aside, how much would Coyotes fans love to have one of Matthews or Eichel slip to number three this year?). He has very little left to prove in North America, and leagues like the CHL and NCAA have very little to offer.
Most draft picks - including top picks - are not so lucky. There are still holes in their game that need to be refined and improved. They dominate the leagues they play in because they have rare talent, but they aren't NHL ready going into their draft season.
Matthews has a late birthday (September 17th, 1997) that put him just on the wrong side of draft eligibility. He's bigger than most kids his age. And he doesn't really have a hometown team to play for; Arizona State will not become a full NCAA D-1 program until the 2017-18 season.
The choice to go to Europe is ultimately the right one for Matthews. But that doesn't mean it's right for everyone else. The NCAA and CHL will continue to churn out first overall picks in the future. But for the first time, they may have some competition.
- It's the story that just won't seem to die will it? Glendale Councilmember Ian Hugh is apparently still looking to nullify the lease agreement between IceArizona and the City of Glendale
- Since the last time we talked about this issue, we discovered that the loan IceArizona took out from Fortress Investment Group - valued at an estimated $85 million - is off the books. Entirely. Likewise, Mr. Hugh's go to argument in favor of a breach of contract is off the books too.
- Moreover, though there seems to be plenty of councilmembers that are not supportive of the deal, nobody besides Mr. Hugh really sounds willing to file a lawsuit over the lease agreement. No council majority, no lawsuit.
- I'll go ahead and nip this in the bud now too: groups not party to the contract (like I don't know, the Goldwater Institute) cannot sue for breach of contract, even if one of the parties is a public entity. Sorry Quebec fans.
- How does the news that a City of Glendale staffer is resigning over the arena audit impact my feelings about the issue? Not at all really, until we find out what exactly prompted her to resign.
- Last night the Ottawa's Bruce Garrioch reported that the Vancouver Canucks were shopping goaltender Eddie Lack, and are looking for a second round pick in return. Should Arizona have interest?
- In Eddie Lack? No. He has one year remaining on his contract before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. No sense in giving up a relatively high draft pick for one year as a backup to Mike Smith?
- So why bring up Arizona and Vancouver at all? Even if Lack is not a good fit, how about Jacob Markstrom? For whatever reason, Markstrom has been absolutely dominant in the AHL, but unable to translate his success to the NHL.
- Were the Coyotes to acquire Markstrom, they could get a restricted free agent with an excellent AHL pedigree for relatively cheap. For Markstrom, he would get a fresh start and a chance to compete with Mark Visentin and Louis Domingue for Arizona's backup job. And for Vancouver, they would clear some of their own logjam at the goalie position. Everybody wins.
- We talked about the Coyotes going after Matt Beleskey this past week. New Jersey Devils blog In Lou We Trust has another good list of possible free agent wingers worth targeting. Take a look.
- Of the names mentioned there, Michael Frolik and Justin Williams are both attractive options. Frolik posted 11 goals, 19 assists, and a 55.15 Shot Attempt Percentage at 5v5 play, while Williams posted 14 goals, 14 assists, and a 57.29 Shot Attempt Percentage at 5v5.
- Frolik may be challenging to sign, because he's 27, highly productive, and Winnipeg has over $23 million in cap space. Williams, on the other hand, is 33 and coming from a team with limited space to sign several important restricted free agents. He might be worth Arizona's attention as a veteran forward.