The 2016 NHL Entry Draft is 40 days away and the Wild are looking to find that next NHL star to raise their franchise to the next level. Hockey Wilderness is counting down the days with a daily mock draft. We are at pick number 1 today.
Welcome, one and all, to the mock draft! On the clock: the Toronto Maple Leafs. With their first first overall selection in 30 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs select Auston Matthews of the US National Team Development Program.
The Maple Leafs have languished near or at the bottom of the league for years, but are looking to be up-and-comers with their AHL affiliate the Marlies doing very well this season, and touting some top prospects as well as the goaltending talents of one Ben Bernier.
Toronto Prospect Overview
The Marlies (Toronto's AHL Affiliate) are absolutely stacked with talent. In net they have Antoine Bibeau, who has won the starting job back from Garret Sparks, who impressed this year in his NHL debut. They have star wingers Kasperi Kapanen and Jeremy Bracco on the right, with Brendan Leipsic and Andreas Johnson on the left (know-able names, and the worst prospects I'll mention here). These are centered by Mitch Marner and William Nylander, two apparent studs-in-the-making whom also will be available next season for the NHL.
The Blue line is where Toronto is seemingly weakest, but even there, they look to be OK. Frank Corrado has looked decent with limited NHL minutes this season, Nikita Zaitsev and Stuart Percy look to be nearing NHL readiness and capable of handling it. Add Jake Gardiner and Martin Marincin in the NHL already and their blue line (while perhaps not elite) should be fine.
Perhaps their biggest need right now is someone to back up and push Ben Bernier, which they may have in Sparks and Bibeau, but it could also mean they're looking to trade for Darcy Kuemper to give him a shot at the starting spot.
About Auston Matthews
Auston Matthews has been projected all season to be the first overall pick, and there is a reason for that: he is darn good. At 6'2" and nearly 200 pounds, he already has good size for an NHL forward, and he plays the hardest position to strengthen: center. Rather than raving about him myself, here's what Elite Prospects has to say:
A high octane dynamo that thrives under the microscope, Auston Matthews is a complete offensive forward who consistently boasts quick hands, feet, and thinking at both ends of the ice. Naturally nimble skater that accelerates to top speed very quickly. An unwavering focus on fine tuning elements of his own game facilitates confidence and competence in his young, but mature, mind. Prolific goal scoring ability and doesn't wait for opportunities to show themselves. He makes his own luck, so to speak, maximizing the use of his body and stick to gain leverage against the toughest of opponents. All-in-all, a generational talent that has the potential to develop into a top flight franchise center. (Curtis Joe, EP 2016)
Matthews has never failed to produce more than one point-per-game with any team he's been a part of, at ever level from the Arizona Bobcats to now, while he plays for the USA at the World Juniors. This season with the ZSC Lions of the Swiss National League A (the top tier in Switzerland), Matthews netted 46 points in 36 games (the Lions were the best regular season game in the league). Matthews was the 10-th best point getter in the league, and second on his team behind Robert Nilsson, a 31-year old who played for five years in New York and Edmonton.
How He Would Fit With the Wild
I'm not sure whether to type or salivate. Matthews would be a huge get for the Wild- a young, talented, offensive counterman of the future? He is what we thought Granlund was, only he's a better scorer and is bigger. There is, alas, almost no way the Wild will acquire Matthews save a blockbuster trade that may or may not ultimately make the team better (despite Matthews undoubtable talent).
Here are his goals from the Swiss League- Matthews is #34