The Auston Matthews’ saga has come to an end and, yes, Matthews, who has yet to see his 18th birthday, will play with the men in 2015-16.
Matthews, from Scottsdale, Ariz., is seen by many observers as the most likely No. 1 selection in the NHL’s 2016 draft, especially following the stellar 2014-15 season he had in the U.S. National Team Development Program.
Matthews has signed with the Zurich Lions, who play in Switzerland’s top professional league (NL A). Under terms of the residency rule, he will be eligible to play for the Lions on Sept. 18, one day after he turns 18.
According to reports, Matthews actually signed with the Lions in May. However, it took until last week for his agents to clear the way for him to play in Switzerland.
When the summer began, it seemed that Matthews had three options — Switzerland, the NCAA route, or the Everett Silvertips, who hold his WHL rights.
It turns out that the NCAA never really was an option. As Chris Peters of cbssports.com wrote right here: “Matthews would have had to accelerate his schooling to attend a U.S. college hockey program. That means a summer spent in school with no guarantees of getting through the NCAA clearinghouse.”
As for the Silvertips, well, it’s obvious that they were a last option. After all, there are reports that Matthews is to be paid US$400,000 by the Lions, a cost that one would think is a bit too rich for the Silvertips.
But let me ask you this — should a soon-to-be-18-year-old of Matthews’ obvious talents give up his last year of growing up in exchange for $400,000?
Hearing Auston Matthews is to receive 400K to play in Switzerland.— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) August 7, 2015
Let’s assume that all goes according to Hoyle and that Matthews is the No. 1 pick in the NHL’s 2016 draft. He will be expected to be on that NHL team’s roster when the 2016-17 season begins, despite the fact that he will have just turned 18.
Last season, then, was the last time that he will have played regularly with his own age group. His days of window shopping in malls with his buddies are over, at least during the hockey season. His days of playing hockey for fun are over; it’s a business now and he will dress and practise and play with older teammates, some of whom play the game in order to feed wives and children.
Away from the arena, older teammates will have different interests, including their families. Presumably one of them will take Matthews under his wing and teach him the ropes of professional hockey, European-style at least.
But as I watch from afar, I have to ask: What’s the rush?
How much will a season playing with men in a top European league advance Matthews’ career? Come the end of the 2015-16 season will he be a better player than he would have been had he played it with other teenagers and the odd 20-year-old? Will he learn more under Lions head coach Marc Crawford than he might have with Everett head coach Kevin Constantine?
I would suggest that there never is a need to rush young talent such as this up hockey’s ladder. Why rush something that would seem to be inevitable anyway.
For example, look at how the Edmonton Oilers handled Leon Draisaitl last season. A year ago, the superbly talented German’s WHL rights belonged to the Prince Albert Raiders. In fact, he had played the 2013-14 season with them, putting up 105 points in 64 games.
The Oilers selected him with the third overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft. When last season began, the Oilers, a team that hadn’t made the playoffs in seemingly forever, chose to keep Draisaitl rather than return him to the Raiders. Furthermore, they chose not to have him play for his native Germany in the 2015 World Junior Championship.
Of course, early in the new year the Oilers, on their way to again missing the playoffs, and Kelowna Rockets orchestrated a deal by which Draisaitl ended up moving to the Okanagan. From that point on, Draisaitl, playing in his own age group, was back being a teenager having fun playing the game.
But let’s be honest — the first few months of his 2014-15 season were a disaster.
I hope that Matthews has a better experience in Switzerland. I also hope that when he’s 40 or 45 or 50, when he’s old enough to realize you can’t reach back and recapture your youth, he doesn’t regret giving up a year of his youth in order to play hockey with men.
Rick Smith says:
August 12, 2015 10:48am
if Auston was born 2 days later, he would be playing the 15-16 season in the NHL. Something tells me that nobody would question if that was the right call. And last time I checked, I can't find a single offensive player ever developed by Constantine. This is a great move!