Auston Matthews, the consensus No. 1 pick for the 2016 NHL Draft, has never met Connor McDavid, 2015’s slam-dunk No. 1. But he does have a relationship with fellow American Jack Eichel, the centre selected after McDavid.
Matthews is currently in Saint Petersburg, Russia, as Team USA prepares to kick off its IIHF World Championship bid Friday vs. McDavid and the Canadians. On Wednesday, he spoke to Sirius XM about the upcoming draft and seeking advice from Eichel.
The Buffalo Sabres star told his onetime teammate on the U.S. National Under-18 squad the NHL is faster, more physical, and a bigger grind than, say, the 36 games Matthews played in the Swiss League this past season.
“He definitely stressed recovering and eating right and keeping your body in good condition to get through those 82 games,” Matthews told the radio station.
Like Eichel, Matthews is a big, strong, play-making centre who honed his skills on the national development team. Compare the two prospects’ final seasons with the U.S. U18s, and Matthews and Eichel each scored 20 goals in 24 games. Matthews edged Eichel in assists, 28 to 25.
Like Eichel, Matthews is destined to land with a rebuilding Atlantic Division cellar dweller, and the two could embark on a long, friendly divisional rivalry.
Also like Eichel, Matthews has chosen to stay sharp before the draft by joining the senior national team at the worlds. In Tuesday’s tune-up match, an overtime loss to Finland, Matthews skated on a line with Edmonton’s Pat Maroon and Minnesota’s Jordan Schroeder.
“They’re older. They’ve been in the league. They know little tricks,” Matthews noticed.
At last year’s World Championship, Eichel stood out among some of planet’s best, scoring seven points in 10 games and helping the Americans claim their second bronze medal in three years.
Though the much-hyped Matthews admitted to letting his mind wander to Toronto, he said just playing in the NHL would be special.
“Whatever happens, it’s exciting. It’s been a fun year going through the draft process,” he said. “I’m trying to stay in the moment and have a good world championship.”