At the 2015 World Championship, Team USA knew the club was set to be young. So young, in fact, that there was even a brief flirtation with bringing Auston Matthews aboard for the tournament. Matthews, then 17, played in an exhibition game prior to the tournament, but didn’t make the final roster.
However, after a season in the Swiss NLA, it’s expected that Matthews, 18, will play a regular role for Team USA at the 2016 World Championship in Russia. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who reported there’s no chance Matthews stays in Switzerland next season, the belief is Matthews will be named to the American World Championship team and suit up throughout the tournament.
McKenzie noted that Matthews could choose to shutdown his season so as to not risk his draft status, but Matthews is “a proud American and would like to help Team USA win a medal at the worlds to give back to the program that helped develop him.”
Matthews is coming off of a phenomenal first season as a professional and put up 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games. He had the 10th-most points of any player and the second-highest points per game of any player to suit up for at least half the season. He appears to be more than ready to play with the men on the international stage, and Matthews has a ton of experience with the program.
Prior to this season, Matthews spent two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program and has played for Team USA at each of the past two World Junior Championships, leading the tournament in goals and being named to the tournament’s all-star team at this year’s competition.
It’s no surprise Team USA would bring Matthews aboard, though, especially after last season’s strong showing at the World Championship with a number of fresh faces in the lineup. Both Dylan Larkin, who had no NHL experience before entering the tournament, and Jack Eichel, who hadn’t yet been drafted, played for USA last season and helped the club capture bronze in the Czech Republic. In goal, the American team relied on Connor Hellebuyck, who also had no NHL experience but was named to the tournament’s all-star team and led the World Championship with a 1.37 goals-against average and .948 save percentage.
And there’s a possibility a good showing at the World Championship could lead to more for Matthews. He has a ton of competition for one of the final roster spots on the 23-and-under Team North America at the World Cup, but making waves at the World Championship could definitely help put him on the radar of GMs Peter Chiarelli and Stan Bowman.
Regardless of his status for the World Cup, though, fans looking to get their first glimpse at Matthews against men on the world stage should be getting their chance in April.