The next time we see Auston Matthews in a professional hockey sweater, it might be when he’s called to the stage in Buffalo on June 24 and pulls on the one bearing the crest of the NHL’s draft lottery winner.
Matthews and his top-seeded Zurich Lions (31-12-1) were the victims of a shocking first-round playoff sweep to the hands of SC Bern (21-20-4) in the Swiss National League A Thursday.
Bern, the NLA’s eighth-ranked club, upset Zurich, coached by Marc Crawford, sweeping the quarter-final with four consecutive victories, the first three by a one-goal margin. Bern clinched the series Thursday with a 3-0 shutout performance by Czech goalie Jakub Stepanek.
The 18-year-old Matthews lit up the Swiss league in his professional rookie campaign, scoring 46 points in 36 games. Seeing plenty of ice time, the scouts’ No. 1–ranked prospect notched three assists but failed to score a goal in the Lions’ short-lived playoff appearance.
"Zurich was slightly better than Bern in [the] first two games, but the puck did not go their way," said Thomas Roost, who evaluates talent in Switzerland and Germany for NHL Central Scouting (via NHL.com). "Matthews played very well in both games with [Robert Nilsson]. They produced, had great pressure and lots of scoring chances, but Matthews is a bit unlucky right now. He hit the post a few times.
"Matthews was the best player on the ice in both games, no question about it. He showed top-notch playmaking, excellent stick work, powerful plays along the wall and in the corners and was even double-shifted toward the end of both games."
The advancing Bern club features a few names NHL fans will recall: Cory Conacher, Derek Roy and Andrew Ebbett.
Matthews was not named to Team North America's initial World Cup of Hockey roster last week, and general manager Peter Chiarelli said the centre faces an “uphill road” if he wants to snatch one of the team's final seven spots by June.
Last year's top-rated U.S. prospect, Jack Eichel, opted to represent Team USA in May's IIHF World Championship, and that option will likely be open to Matthews if he wants to squeeze in a few more games before the draft this spring.