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NHL releases midseason draft rankings

Auston Matthews could be the first U.S.-born player to be drafted first overall since Patrick Kane in 2007. Sparta Prague/Champions Hockey League/Getty Images

Forward Auston Matthews (Scottsdale, Arizona), who plays for Zurich in Switzerland’s National League, has been named the top draft-eligible skater for the 2016 NHL draft as the NHL Central Scouting Bureau released its midseason rankings. Matthews aims to be the seventh U.S.-born player to be drafted first overall, and the first since Erik Johnson (2006 by the St. Louis Blues) and Patrick Kane (2007 by the Chicago Blackhawks) were selected with the top pick in back-to-back years.

Matthews is averaging more than a point-per-game (19 goals-13 assists in 26 games) in Switzerland’s top men’s league while playing under the guidance of former NHL head coach and Stanley Cup champion Marc Crawford. Matthews tied for the tournament lead at the recent 2016 World Junior Championship with seven goals in seven games to help the U.S. earn a bronze medal. An Arizona native, he learned the game while playing in the local minor hockey system -- including Bantam and Midget seasons with the Arizona Bobcats organization -- before joining the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in 2013-14.

Joining Matthews at the top of a deep field of European skaters are a pair of 2016 World Junior Championship gold medalists: No. 2 Jesse Puljujarvi (Tornio, Finland), who led the tournament in assists and points while collecting most valuable player, best forward and All-Star team honors; and No. 3 Patrik Laine (Tampere, Finland), who tied Matthews for the tournament lead in goals and joined linemate Puljujarvi as a tournament All-Star team selection.

The three top-ranked skaters from North America all come from NHL bloodlines: No. 1 Matthew Tkachuk (St. Louis), a forward for the London Knights (OHL), is the son of former NHL player Keith Tkachuk; No. 2 Jakob Chychrun (Boca Raton, Florida), a defenseman with the Sarnia Sting (OHL), is the son of former NHL blueliner Jeff Chychrun; and No. 3 Alexander Nylander (Stockholm, Sweden), a forward for the Mississauga Steelheads (OHL), is the son of former NHL player Michael Nylander and brother of Toronto Maple Leafs prospect William Nylander.

Carter Hart (Sherwood Park, Alberta) of the Everett Silvertips (WHL) and Filip Gustavsson (Skelleftea, Sweden) of Lulea’s junior team

(SWEDEN-JR) are the top-ranked goaltenders from North America and Europe, respectively.

The mid-season rankings feature the top 210 skaters and 30 goaltenders in North America as well as the top 134 skaters and 15 goaltenders from Europe.

The 2016 NHL draft will be held June 24-25 at First Niagara Center in Buffalo. This will be the third time the event will be held in Buffalo; the city previously hosted the NHL draft in 1991 (Memorial Auditorium) and 1998 (Marine Midland Arena).