Toughest test remains ahead for Matthews

Aaron Vickers2016 Draft Center

Auston Matthews has his biggest challenges ahead.

Including the Swiss Hockey Cup final, Matthews had points in 11 consecutive games before being stopped against Kloten on Tuesday. Prior, he was last held pointless with the ZSC Lions on Dec. 11. He’d also recorded 19 points in those 11 games, and his 23 goals in 31 games this season are second among all players in the National League A. Julien Sprunger of Fribourg-Gotteron is first with 24 goals in 40 games.

The 18-year-old now has 38 points in 32games. His 1.19 points-per-game average is second-best among players with more than 10 league games played. He’s ZSC’s second-leading scorer behind former Edmonton Oilers forward Robert Nilsson, despite missing 14 games because of a back injury.

“In my opinion, he plays in a lot more dominant way than Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi in the Finnish Liiga,” said Future Considerations’ European scout Dennis Schellenberg. “I have mentioned it already that his defensive game improved under coach Marc Crawford, but I would say in the past few games it took another step forward. He has an improved feeling for being in shot lanes and he blocked pucks in his last few games. As of lately, I have spotted him often behind the goal digging out pucks and carrying out the puck through the neutral zone.”

Still, Matthews, who tops Future Considerations’ February ranking, hasn’t been without criticism.

He had seven goals and 11 points in seven games to help Team USA to bronze at the IIHF 2016 World Junior Championship. But Matthews was held scoreless in three of his seven games, and recorded six of seven goals and nine of 11 points in blowout games against Switzerland, Denmark and the Czech Republic. He was held scoreless in both a semifinal loss against Russia, and in a bronze medal win against Sweden.

Matthews was named to the all-tournament team.

With two assists, he helped the Lions win the Swiss Hockey Cup title in early February.

“Since Matthews did not have a huge impact in the medal games for the US at the World Juniors, I have heard some comments that he potentially is no player who comes up big in the most important minutes of a game,” Schellenberg said.

“Therefore, I am really looking forward to see how he does in the playoffs when he won’t have that much space and time. He is a player who likes to create offense; someone who does something with the puck and it will surely become tougher for him to create space and room.”

Four games remain in the regular season before the playoffs start. ZSC is currently first in the NLA.

“There will be quite some pressure on him and the team, as the ZSC Lions are expected to make it to the final,” Schellenberg said. “They are the front running team for the championship, but also tend to have some sloppy performances from time to time. So it will be interesting to see if Matthews can continue to play at this pace and put up those great numbers also in the postseason.”