Auston Matthews is off to the Swiss League.
On Friday, National League A club ZSC (Zurich) Lions tweeted out that Matthews, the Arizona-bred phenom projected to go No. 1 overall at next year’s draft, will suit up for them next year rather than play junior hockey for WHL Everett.
— ZSC Lions (@zsclions) August 7, 2015
The news comes after months of speculation and bureaucratic red tape. While Matthews has long been tied to a move to Switzerland, work permit issues prevented the Lions from making the signing official; per Swiss Hockey News, Matthews will have to wait until he turns 18 (in mid-September) before playing.
It promises to be worth the wait.
Matthews had a banner campaign for the U.S. National Team Development Program last year, setting single-season records with 55 goals and 117 points. He broke the previous scoring mark led by Chicago’s Patrick Kane, who also happens to be the last American-born player to go No. 1 overall.
In Zurich, Matthews will play professionally and against men, which should be a good test — at 6-foot-2 and 194 pounds, he’s expected to handle himself physically.
He’ll also get an opportunity to work under an experienced head coach in Marc Crawford.
Crawford brings plenty to the table, having racked up over 500 wins during a 16-year coaching career with stops in Quebec, Colorado, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Dallas. He captured the Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach in 1995 and, a year later, helped the Avalanche win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Following his last stop with the Stars in 2011, Crawford took the Zurich job and has achieved a high level of success. The Lions captured the league championship in 2014 and were largely credited for the development of Ronalds Kenins, an undrafted Latvian forward than caught on with the Canucks last season, scoring 12 points in 30 games.
“Matthews is an outstanding young hockey player and everyone involved with the ZSC Lions is so excited about seeing him play in Zurich,” Crawford told Today’s Slapshot back in May. “I believe [the Swiss National League A] is the the perfect training ground for young athletes.”
With the Lions, Matthews will also skate with a slew of ex-NHLers: Robert Nilsson, Ryan Shannon, Dan Fritsche and Marc-Andre Bergeron, to name a few.