Crawford: Auston Matthews ‘a special player’

ZSC Lions head coach Marc Crawford tells Jeff Blair why and how top NHL prospect Auston Matthews will fit in so well with his club in Switzerland.

ZSC Lions head coach Marc Crawford isn’t sure if Auston Matthews is a trend-setter, but he sure does believe the young hockey phemom has made a wise decision.

Matthews recently signed a one-year deal with Crawford’s Swiss National League A team, opting to get a year of professional experience in Europe instead of playing with the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips.

It’s a decision that young North American hockey players don’t often make. Then again, not many are in a position like Matthews — the Arizona native missed the 2015 draft by the just two days.

“There aren’t that many 18-year-olds that fit that bill,” Crawford said during an appearance on The Jeff Blair Show on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “I honestly believe that if he’d been born on the 15th instead of the 17th, we’d be talking about whether or not he’s going to make the Buffalo Sabres or the [Arizona] Coyotes, because I think most people said that he’d probably have gone second or third in this past draft. He’s that good.”

Matthews’ time in Europe will begin with more than a month of solid development, training and conditioning, as he’s not allowed to lace up the skates for a game until he turns 18 on Sept. 18.

“For a young player, that’s a great window,” said Crawford. “This is a time when young people are really, really prone to advancements in their physical conditioning. They key is to find time, and if you don’t have the time, then you’re not going to get the improvement that’s there for you. We think it’s a great block for him, he’s excited about working with the strength and conditioning team we have here.”

Crawford also talked about the young player’s focus on development, how he stood out during the recruitment process, and how Matthews’ family is handling the big move.

“This is a special case, he’s a special player, we’re delighted that he’s chosen to come here,” he said. “We think we’re going to do a heck of a job in helping him take the next step in his professional hockey career.”

On why the Swiss league is especially conducive to top conditioning:
We don’t have to deal with the fatigue and the travel fatigue that NHL clubs have to deal with, and in some cases, major-junior and college clubs have to deal with,” he said. “We really do have a great development program because we get quality practices and we’re working on the right things.

On the increased importance of recruitment in hockey:
That’s the way hockey’s going right now. If you’re in the NHL, you’ve got to recruit free agents, really show why your program is the place they you want them to be, and we’re no different. We’ve got to really fight for the quality imports.

On the family’s decision to have Auston’s mother move to Europe with him:
Even though he’s six-foot-two, 195 pounds, he looks like a man, he talks like a man, he plays like a man, he’s still a young guy,” said Crawford, who added the decision to have his mother move with Matthews was one made entirely by the family. “I think it’s great that he’s going to have some parental guidance.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.