Auston Matthews is everything you want in a center: he's got size, he's got skill, and he's got a knack for scoring. He was born three days shy of the age cutoff for 2015, or he would have otherwise been in the McDavid/Eichel debate. Which would have made all the intrigue surrounding Matthews and the Arizona Coyotes a moot point, as it's almost impossible to imagine Buffalo taking Matthews over Eichel in a league that inexplicably let Brian Burke draft both Sedin twins.
But he wasn't there in 2015, which makes him arguably the top prize in 2016. While every team dreams of landing a superstar in the making to catapult their franchise into Stanley Cup contention, there may be no better scenario than seeing Auston Matthews don Sedona Red this summer in Buffalo.
Auston Matthews - Center - Zurich Lions (Swiss-A)
2015-16 Stats - 36 GP - 24 G, 22 A, 6 PIMs
Auston Matthews was raised in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was a Coyotes fan at a young age, watching Danny Briere and Shane Doan. He came up through junior hockey in Arizona before he was selected for the US National Development Program. After a terrifyingly good season in which Matthews posted a whopping 116 points in just 60 games (he set records in goals and points ahead of a guy named Patrick Kane), Matthews chose to play in Zurich with the Swiss A-League this past season, rather than go to college or the WHL (the Everett Silvertips held his CHL rights.)
Matthews is a 6'2" 198 pound solid center. He skates smoothly and when he plays with older players, he blends right in. He is a left shot with a knack of finding the back of the net. He was sidelined for over a month with a back injury before he went to Helsinki for the World Juniors where he and his teammates won bronze. In seven games he had seven goals and four assists for 11 points.
Matthews is almost consistently over a point per game player, and that's not a surprise. He makes the plays happen and creates what he needs. He has been projected to be an Anze Kopitar or Jonathan Toews type, two of the best shutdown centermen in the league. He will be playing in the World Championships in Russia this May for Team USA. A strong performance there would likely solidify his status as the top pick in this year's draft.
Since the Draft began in 1963, only six Americans have gone first overall. They have come from states like Michigan, New York, Minnesota, and Massachusetts. Matthews won't be the first American to go at the top slot, but he will nonetheless be both a trailblazer and undeniable proof of hockey's growing influence in Arizona, the Sun Belt, and the Southern United States as a whole.