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Generation Auston: Why The NHL (Including The Bruins) Should Already Be Looking Ahead

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The class of 2015 have barely begun their NHL careers, and teams haven't begun planning for the 2016 draft yet. But Paul Wheeler argues that, with a player potentially better than Connor McDavid on the horizon, many teams should be. Including the Bruins. Auston Matthews is coming.

The leaves are barely beginning to fall off the trees on Boston Common, the wind off Lake Michigan is barely beginning to ruffle Wings fans hair, and Wild fans haven't even begun stacking the wood for another Minnesota winter yet. The NHL season isn't even ten games old.

The class of 2015 are already making their mark, however. Connor McDavid (Canada's golden child) has five points in six games in Edmonton. Jack Eichel is already the darling of the Buffalo crowd.

But over in Switzerland, a player who might outshine the both of them is starting his pro journey-a year early.

Auston Matthews has elected to spend his draft year battling for first overall by playing in the Swiss National League. A decision that was greeted with surprise by some in the hockey media, who argued that it might be tricky to balance the benefits of playing against men with the perception of playing in a slightly "lower standard" of league.

Whoever said that has clearly never seen the Swiss league. Unlike McDavid's draft year, there's no room for racking up multi-point nights against future ECHL bottom pairing defencemen in Sarnia or overmatched star-struck rookies in Saginaw. This is a league of fully-fledged internationals who've played in some of Europe's top leagues, sometimes for many years. Some who've been familiar in the NHL.

On Matthews' ZSC Zurich Lions team alone are names familiar to NHL fans like Dan Fritsche, Ryan Shannon and Marc-Andre Bergeron. Former Sabres, Stars and Oilers centre Derek Roy has just signed to play in the league after finally failing to find a landing spot in the NHL this season.

Right now, Matthews, who only turned 18 recently, is outscoring all of them by some way. He leads his team in scoring and currently has more goals than names like Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Damien Brunner and Cory Conacher,  all of whom have been solid NHL forwards in their careers and sometimes more (remember Brunner being one of the next big discoveries in Detroit for a little while?)

In a league competing against men twice his age and experience, Matthews isn't just living with the competition...he's dominating it. And doing things like this....

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That's one hell of a wrister in any league...when you bear in mind it's a 17-year-old having the confidence to do that it kind of adds a little to it, somehow.

That was Matthews' second goal in Switzerland. He's since scored 7 more, to currently sit joint-top in league goalscoring with Cory Conacher. The difference is - he's played 4 less games than his older, far more experienced rivals.

I'm going to throw out something of a controversial opinion here - the team that gets Matthews will be getting a player with even more potential than the much-vaunted duo of McDavid and Eichel. Whilst those two have so far shown a seamless transition to the pro game in the NHL, imagine what a player with the same skillset and generational talent but with a year of pro development would look like. Now imagine that player being available as a potential first overall pic in 2016. Imagine how you'd salivate at the chance to see him suit up for your NHL team. Imagine what a difference maker he could become to your roster.

Imagine (particularly if you're an American) how many shirts he'd sell, how many kids would be wanting to meet him, how much the local media might see him as the solution to their teams problems and the chance to put their market back on the map after a down year or two. Imagine potentially the greatest American forward ever sitting there, ready for your team to draft.

You've just imagined Auston Matthews, right now.

It's much harder to tank in the NHL this season, with the new rules in the draft lottery attempting to reduce the incentive for teams to be bad in the hope of being better. But let's just say that the more chance teams have at Matthews, the less a losing season might sting come April.

Which raises this question (based on stats by Chowder's own Mike Leonard):

11 teams have lost their first two games and subsequently made the playoffs since 2001. Based on history, teams need a .600 win percentage to get into the playoffs on average. In order to make that and get back on course, Bruins need to get 8 points in their next five games, which means going either 3-0-2 or 4-1-0. They need to play .80 hockey against five teams who have won 72% of their games combined so far this season, essentially.

So what happens if they're not on course by their tenth game? How early is too early to start thinking of the future?

My argument is that it's never too early. I'm not openly suggesting the Bruins tank - that would be too much. In fact I'm not suggesting any teams should throw away a season for a 20% chance at the top pick.

What I am saying is that if we move to December and the Bruins and indeed any NHL team is struggling and in a position like the one mentioned above, then it would be a poor NHL team management who wouldn't already be casting covetous looks across the Atlantic at the greatest American talent in this generation and possibly ever.

Auston Matthews, even more so than Connor McDavid, has the potential to make a short-term period of suffering all the more worth it. He is, in my eyes, giving himself a superb chance of being a better player than the player that multiple NHL teams decided it was worth effectively throwing away a season for.

He is something truly special. If teams across the NHL aren't at least considering how they can make sure he pulls on their jersey in June 2016, they will be soon.

This kid has the potential to make Connor McDavid look ordinary and become the leading light of both an NHL team and his country for a generation.

When you're handed a player like that as an NHL GM, you at least start putting a plan in place to make him yours, especially if your team, like the Bruins, is fast approaching the point where it's going to need a serious injection of new blood.

To do anything else would be potentially throwing away a gift from the hockey gods.