Auston Matthews was close to becoming the first major North American prospect to eschew both major junior and college in favor of playing professional hockey in Switzerland before his draft year, but it appears an issue with his work visa will prevent the Arizona native from playing overseas next season.
According to multiple reports, including Swiss news outlet Limmattaler Zeitung, Matthews has yet to receive a work permit and his participation in the upcoming Swiss NLA campaign.
The 17-year-old Matthews is considered the top prospect heading into the 2016 draft.
"Auston wants to challenge himself, and that's why he's had the thought of going overseas," Don Granato, Matthews’ coach with the US National Team Development Program, told Mike Morreale. "The intrigue for him is that it's a challenge and an unknown. He did so well against Division I [college] teams this year, scoring 10 goals in 10 games. I don't think there's a player in college hockey who averaged a goal a game, and he's a junior in high school."
Reports first surfaced of Matthews’ interest in playing in Europe in early May when Matthews’ agent, Pat Brisson, told THN’s Ryan Kennedy that Matthews was considering all of his options, including Europe, for his upcoming season. It followed that Matthews could be headed to the NLA, Switzerland’s top league, to play for the Zurich Lions. This most recent snag, however, could axe that plan.
The issue for Matthews is that he hasn’t participated in a full season of professional hockey prior to his reported deal with the Lions and, as such, is ineligible to obtain a work visa for the upcoming season.
Matthews had previously ruled out playing in the NCAA, with Brisson telling NHL.com’s Morreale that Matthews had, “been exploring Europe and (has) narrowed it down to Switzerland and the WHL. It's looking at the moment that the scale is leaning towards Europe."
"Auston could be in the NHL (in 2015-16)," Brisson added, with regards to Matthews' talent level. "He would probably play one year somewhere, so the college route isn't a good idea…We just get the feeling that Auston, especially in the last couple of weeks, is more ready to narrow it down to either Europe or the WHL."
Following a season in which he broke Patrick Kane’s point-scoring record with the USNTDP, Matthews got his first taste of professional action, suiting up for an exhibition game at the World Championship with Team USA. However, he did not make the final roster.
Matthews’ WHL rights are owned by the Everett Silvertips, and if the contract with ZSC falls through, it seems likely his future will be in major junior, where he’ll likely play heading into his draft year.