On Sept. 18, the wait was finally over when US wunderkind Auston Matthews was slated to make his debut with the ZSC Lions in the highest Swiss league. The pleasant anticipation started when Swiss club ZSC Lions announced the signing of the likely first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Because of work-permit issues, he could only play his first game once he turned 18, which happened on Sept. 17, one day before making his first pro game.
2016 top prospect Auston Matthews celebrates his 18th birthday today, meaning he is now eligible to play for ZSC Lions in Switzerland.
— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) September 17, 2015
It was a long-expected debut the hockey world finally saw happening on Friday when the ZSC Lions faced Fribourg-Gotteron at home. It was a special day Matthews won’t forget, neither will everyone who attended the game in the stands or in front of the TV. And as a little spoiler up front, Matthews didn’t waste any time to impress and show off his great talent.
First Game, First Goal
The former NHL-coach and current head coach of the ZSC Lions, Marc Crawford, lined up Matthews as a center next to Reto Schappi and former Senators player Ryan Keller, who played six games for the Sens in the 2009-10 season. It took Matthews a couple of shifts to get used to the game, but he picked up the pace fast.
“I felt good, I haven’t played for a while and needed some shifts, maybe even a whole period to heat up. I started to feel very good in the second and third period,” he said after the game.
It was in the second period when the Lions went to the power play and Matthews’ big moment was about to come. He rushed through the neutral zone with the puck before a give-and-go with winger and former Edmonton Oilers camp participant Chris Baltisberger, which he finished off for the 3-2 lead, leading to “Auston Matthews” chants from the crowd. He made himself the biggest birthday present with the goal and it was surely a very special moment in Matthews’ life, also because his family was attending the game.
You can see Matthews’ first goal here!
— FCHockey (@FCHockey) September 18, 2015
Matthews Setting the Tone in Second Game
After his successful debut on Friday, he impressed one day later in an away game and scored again. With two minutes left in the first period, Matthews scored with a lightning-quick release, which beat the goaltender up high. Like one day before, he also had a dominant performance in his second game. He played very well in all three zones and proved that he can be a dominant player in the highest Swiss league.
You can see Matthews’ second goal here!
GOAL FOR MATTHEWS! 2 in 2 games for the kid. 3-1 ZSC.
— Jake (@baskincase) September 19, 2015
Coach Crawford is impressed with Matthews’ vision and matured understanding of the game: “He shows outstanding vision. For me the best players are the ones who can read the game very well.”
“MatthewsMania” in Switzerland
The hype around Matthews in the Swiss media is huge and all eyes are on him. You could literally have felt the excitement in the air when you were in the stands and every time Matthews touched the puck, there was gasping and whispering from the crowd in expectation of something big. The likely first overall from next year’s draft will arguably be one of the biggest names ever played in the Swiss league and my advice to everyone who has a chance to see the 18-year-old phenomenon: Go and watch him! He is a treat to watch and he has the ability to amaze you in nearly every shift, even if he is only 18.
I know it is early to make a judgement, but for me it is already clear it was the right decision for Matthews to come over to Switzerland to play his last season before the NHL Draft. He will develop his game further in the best possible way in a league with the best combination of high-living standards, speed and skill. For everyone who still has doubts about Matthews going first overall next year: Forget about that. He will be the first overall selection in 2016.