It seems it is only a matter of time before Auston Matthews dons a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey on the 2016 NHL draft floor. Even though Patrik Laine is hot on his heels, the combination of his elite skill set and strong all-around game has solidified him as the top prospect of his draft class.
With his destination nearly set in stone, the type of impact the Scottsdale, AZ., native will make in the NHL next season has become a hot topic of discussion. Some scouts feel he will be Toronto’s No. 1 centre as a rookie, unless, of course, they sign Steven Stamkos.
“In my eyes he will be Toronto's No.1 centre right away, but maybe they have a more conservative plan with him,” says NHL Central Scouting’s Thomas Roost. “But still, I stand to my opinion that Matthews is already a bit better than (Nazem) Kadri and (Tyler) Bozak.”
On the stats sheet, it seems the 6-foot-2, 216-pound Matthews has the potential to produce 60 or more points, especially when considering he should receive no shortage of ice time.
“I'm pretty sure that he will have an immediate impact and with the support of (William) Nylander and maybe already (Mitch) Marner, I give Matthews around 65 points per 82 games in Toronto,” says Roost.
Buffalo Sabres prized pick Jack Eichel, who scored 56 points as a freshman last season, appears to be an accurate comparable for Matthews. They both have similar skill sets and frames; however, Matthews does have the advantage of having professional hockey experience prior to his rookie season in the NHL. He tallied 24 goals and 46 points in 36 contests with the ZSC Lions this past season. Eichel spent his 2014-15 season in college at Boston University.
“I think it’s a tossup between Matthews and Eichel,” says an NHL scout of an Eastern Conference team. “I’d say Matthews has better pucks skills, but Eichel has the advantage in a better overall game. They are both future top-line centres who could be two of the top five centres in the NHL in three or four years.”
When evaluating his long-term future, Matthews, who turns 19 in September, has the makings of the NHL’s next big superstar. He has all the tools needed to develop into a point-per-game player and one of the game’s top forwards.
“If I analyze nowadays stats even of the very best I hardly can find players north of 80 points, even for Crosby this seems to be not too easy,” says Roost. “So I think he definitely will be a point-per-game player in his prime with a pretty well rounded two-way-game. North of 80 points? Yes, if they continue to reduce the size of goalie-equipment.”
It’s easy to compare young phenoms to NHL stars, but they are very rarely that accurate. The same goes for Matthews, as he shares characteristics with the likes of Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar, but at the end of the day, he will develop into his own player.
“I’m not sure if it’s fair to compare Matthews to an NHL player,” says the NHL scout. "He has a little Toews in him and a little Kopitar in him, but he will have his own unique way of playing the game. He’s a 200-foot centre who will be the backbone of the Leafs for years to come.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen