If you believe reports coming out of Switzerland, the near consensus best player in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft Auston Matthews will play his “one-and-done” year in Switzerland, not in the WHL or at any number of colleges. This is unprecedented, not only from an American player but from a player of Matthews’ quality. So does this set the stage for future players to do this, or is this, like Matthews’ 2015-16 season, “one-and-done?”
For Matthews’, this might, surprisingly, increase his draft stock. Scouts will rave about his “maturity”, not only on the ice playing in a professional league but off the ice playing in Europe and in a different hockey culture when he’s only 17. Matthews played with the US World Junior Team this past year and didn’t look at all out of place, and almost made the World Championship roster at the same young age. If anyone wants to split hairs, they could say that the Swiss league is not the best in Europe, but for Matthews, who is already the likely number one pick anyway, that probably won’t matter.
While Auston Matthews might not be the level of prospect Connor McDavid is/was, he must have watched his domination of the OHL and thought to himself that playing in the WHL might not benefit him much, especially since he’ll only play there for one season. He may have also watched Jack Eichel at BU and thought that he may well dominate college hockey too, no matter what school he chose. And since he’d be one-and-done anyway, why even bother with the cost of attendance and education he’s not going to need anyway?
Matthews will not only be making money playing in Switzerland, he’s going to be making himself an even better prospect to whoever’s fortune gives them the #1 pick in Buffalo 13 months from now. He’ll now have a professional year under his belt, which has helped prospects adapt even easier to the NHL in their rookie seasons, and he’s giving scouts more to praise him for than he would if he stayed within driving distance of their houses.
The question is: will more North American prospects do this? It depends on how good the prospects are, since the more scouts can watch them in person, the more they’ll end up being talked about. If they go to Europe, they’ll be talked about less. But if there are high end prospects whose standing with scouts can’t be lowered by being talked about less, playing a season in Europe can’t hurt at all. A good number of European players end up plying their trade in the CHL to adapt to North America, but the reverse is almost non-existent. Maybe Matthews will start a trend for more prospects to try out a season in Europe regardless of how scouts will view their draft stock.
Matthews may end up being an isolated case, or the forbearer of a future trend. His success in Switzerland will determine that.