USA’s Jack Eichel has eyes on 2015 top prize – USA TODAY
Jack Eichel’s NHL draft hype has skyrocketed to the point that scouting reports on him truly are out of this world.
“Even if you were an alien from a spaceship who had never seen hockey, and you watched this kid, you would say, ‘Good Lord, that’s a talented athlete,'” said Brian Burke, the Calgary Flames’ president of hockey operations.
The Massachusetts native won’t be eligible to be drafted until June2015, but he already is considered the best U.S.-born center prospect since Mike Modano was taken No.1 overall in 1988. Modano retired in 2011 as the highest-scoring American in NHL history.
The 2015 draft also will include Erie (Pa.) Otters forward Connor McDavid, the most talked-about Canadian forward prospect since Sidney Crosby.
“This could be like (Alex) Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin going one and two,” said former Flames general manager Craig Button, now a paid draft analyst.
McDavid and Eichel are such strong prospects that only the Tampa Bay Lightning and St.Louis Blues dealt away their 2015 first-round picks before the trade deadline.
Eichel, 17, has netted 33 goals and 42 assists for 75 points in 45 games for the U.S. National Team Development Program. He will be playing for the USA at the world under-18 championships next week in Finland.
“It’s like having a five-tool player in baseball,” U.S. coach Danton Cole said. “There’s not much missing.”
He is 6-2, ripped, and seemingly breathes fire when he drives the net.
“He has great hockey IQ, and he plays at a high pace,” Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill said.
“He’s the total package.”
Eichel has committed to Boston University for next season, although any team that drafts him would want him to be a one-and-done in college. The expectation is he’ll play in the NHL during the 2015-16 season.
“When he wants to take over, he just takes over,” said USA forward Sonny Milano, who is projected to be taken in the first round of the 2014 draft.
Milano said Eichel’s hockey sense is born out of self-confidence.
“He will try things that other kids are afraid to try,” Milano said. “He has a confidence that I’ve never seen before.”
Today, Eichel is viewed as a can’t-miss prospect, but he says he didn’t truly grasp his potential until last year when he played in the under-17 challenge.
“After that tournament, I thought to myself, maybe I am a pretty good player,” Eichel said. “It was like a measurement for me, a chance to compare myself to other top players. Canada has some great players, and Sweden, and Finland.”
Button and most NHL scouts remember that tournament, particularly when Eichel and McDavid were in the same game.
“There were 36 other players in the game, and a couple of goaltenders were playing, but I was fixated on McDavid and Eichel,” Button said. “They went back and forth. It was like punch. Jab. Upper cut.”
The Americans trailed 4-1, and Button said he thought Eichel single-handedly spearheaded the USA to a come-from-behind 5-4 overtime win.
“When you left that building, you said to yourself, ‘I’ve just seen something rare, and I will be able to talk about it for years to come,'” Button said.
McDavid and Eichel are different styles of players. McDavid is a cunning, stylish scorer.
“He pounces on his prey,” Button said. “He’s there and you don’t even know it.”
Eichel is always a visible, powerful force. He spends 21/2 hours every day in the gym. He has added 15 pounds since he joined the U.S. team. His body fat is 4.8%.
“It’s like he says, ‘I’m coming at you, and you had better be ready to defend against me,'” Button said.
Added USA center Dylan Larkin, a projected first-rounder in 2014: “It is just natural for (Eichel) to make the right play.”
Hanging out with his father, Bob, is what gave him his love of the game, Eichel said.
“As much as I’ve wanted out of hockey, he has given it me,” he said. “We used to always watch games. Two years ago, when I was living at home, we would watch six NHL games a night. You can just call me a hockey junkie.”
The McDavid vs. Eichel rivalry already is creating a buzz, and Eichel clearly doesn’t mind the comparison.
“I look at it like it is a competition,” Eichel said. “I do want to go first overall. If he goes first overall, so be it. But I want to go first overall. He is my competition.”