All eyes with Bobcats on Matthews as NHL Draft on tap
This Friday night, when Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello strides to the podium inside the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y., to announce the first selection in the 2016 NHL Draft, there’s a strong likelihood that he’ll utter the name “Auston Matthews.”
Even if the Leafs go in another direction, there’s little doubt that Matthews will be a high first-round pick, and the anticipation has everyone involved with the VOSHA Bobcats waiting eagerly for June 24. That’s because Matthews, a Scottsdale native, played two seasons with the Bobcats and is considered a homegrown product of the program.
“It’s very exciting,” said Pat Mahan, who served as an assistant coach on both teams that Matthews played for with the Bobcats. “I’ve known Auston since he started playing hockey and I have a very close relationship with him and his family.”
Matthews played with the Bobcats’ Bantam AAA team during the 2011-12 season, and on their Midget 16U AAA team the following season, scoring 55 goals and adding 45 assists that year. He suited up for the U.S. National Under-17 and Under-18 teams the next season, played on the Under-18 and World Junior teams in 2014-15 and this season, played for the World Junior team, the Men’s National Team and the ZSC Lions in Switzerland.
“When he came to us, we made a commitment to him that we’d do everything we could to get him to the next level, knowing that he was a great player,” Mahan said. “Now to see it all unfolding, it’s very special for him and his family, and we’re happy as a program to have been a very small part of that.”
Matthews played for the VOSHA Mustangs, the Jr. Coyotes and the Lemieux Academy before joining the Bobcats under the tutelage of Bobcats director of hockey Ron Filion.
Reached recently in Russia, where he was playing with the U.S. National team in the IIHF World Championship, Matthews said his time with the Bobcats was instrumental in getting him to where he is today.
“It was great for me to have someone like Ron, who’s played and coached at a professional level, to learn from and help me develop,” Matthews said. “As a team, we were traveling and playing in the best tournaments against top teams, where you can really compare yourself to other top players in the country.”
Matthews, a 6-foot-2, 194-pound center, is considered the draft’s top prospect by most prognosticators. Whether or not he joins the likes of Connor McDavid, Aaron Ekblad, Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Mario Lemieux and Guy Lafleur as players selected No. 1 overall, most scouts wouldn’t hesitate to bet their livelihoods that he’ll be a top player in the NHL for many years to come.
Mahan said it didn’t take him long to see that Matthews was a special player. One of the things that stood out to the coach was that the young prodigy didn’t rely totally on talent, though – he was always working to improve.
“When he was young, you knew he was above the kids he was playing with and against,” Mahan said. “Before he went to the U.S. National Team Development Program, I had no question whether they were going to take him or not. He has an unbelievable skill set, but he’s also willing to go to the dirty areas – he’s willing to go to the net. Sometimes with players like that, they’re very much one-sided. But he’s a very good player in the defensive zone. His one-on-one skills are second to none, and a lot of times when guys are as talented as he is, they don’t put that much effort in. For him, it’s all areas of the game.
“His skill set is what’s ultimately getting him where he is, but it’s not the only thing, and that’s what I like about him as a player.”
— Greg Ball