Fierce battle for American phenom Matthews

Canada's Curtis Lazar tries to control the puck away from USA's Auston Matthews, right, during first period preliminary round hockey action at the IIHF World Junior Championship, Wednesday, December 31, 2014 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

He’s still at least a year away from playing professional hockey, but the pursuit of American phenom Auston Matthews is heating up.

The 17-year-old has 15 goals and 37 points in 19 games with the U.S. National Development Team and his suitors for his next season of hockey have already begun to go all-in on the talented forward.

“The bidding and pushing is fierce on Auston Matthews,” said Damien Cox during Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. “Auston Matthews, who would probably be no worse than the third pick in this year’s draft, but will be the number one pick quite likely in 2016, (is) deciding between the Western Hockey League and NCAA schools.”

While the bidding is in full force for his services, there’s no word yet on which clubs and/or schools that have emerged to the forefront. However, it should come as no surprise that the Scottsdale, AZ native is looking to stay at least a little closer to home by narrowing his CHL choices to the Western Hockey League.

Meanwhile, both defenceman Mike Reilly of the University of Minnesota and forward Artem Panarin of the KHL are two names to keep your eyes on heading into the off-season.

Panarin, St. Petersburg’s leading scorer, has been under the watchful eye of NHL scouts according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

“A number of NHL teams are scouting (Panarin),” said Friedman during Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. “The reason people are looking at him is (because) he has 62 points and 26 goals this year, more on St. Petersburg than Ilya Kovalchuk.”

As Friedman mentions, Panarin has a team best 26 goals and 62 points in 54 games this season, good for a tie for fourth in league scoring and seven more than his teammate Kovalchuk.

Reilly, a 6-foot-1 defenceman, has six goals, 40 points, and a +21 in 35 games for Minnesota’s Division I men’s hockey team.

The 21-year-old is in his junior season of NCAA hockey and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer if he can’t come to terms with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who drafted him 98th overall in 2011.

“He could generate the same kind of interest you saw as Kevin Hayes last summer, and of course Justin Schultz a couple years ago,” Cox said.

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