Auston Matthews, the top-rated prospect for the 2016 NHL draft, has signed a one-year deal with ZSC Lions of the Swiss national league.
Matthews, 17, will become the first North American underager to go to Europe to play professionally during his draft year. He'll play under coach Marc Crawford, a 15-year NHL vet who led the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup in 1996.
The 6-2 194-pound center was expected to choose between junior hockey with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL or skating for one of the top programs in the NCAA. But with his development already surpassing what he might have gained at those levels, he chose to challenge himself against men in one of the world's best pro leagues.
The decision caps off a dominant season for Matthews, who smashed Patrick Kane's scoring records playing with the US National Team Development in 2014-15, netting 55 goals and 116 points in just 60 games. He also led Team USA to a world under-18 gold medal in Switzerland last month then made history by joining the American men's team for an exhibition game ahead of the World Championship.
The Scottsdale, AZ native missed the cut-off for the 2015 date by two days. If he'd been eligible, it's believed he would have been coveted ahead of fellow American Jack Eichel, the consensus second choice behind Connor McDavid.