When you hear about a prospect for a long time, two things can happen. The first is fatigue, where scouts begin to pick away at an otherwise excellent player because they've seen him so often. John Tavares suffered this fate thanks to his late birthday and early entry into the Ontario League, though he still went first overall to the New York Islanders. But keep in mind, there were rumblings just before the 2009 draft that Matt Duchene should have usurped him.
The second path is dogma. For example, Connor McDavid has to go first overall in 2015, right?
According to several NHL scouts, that may not be the case anymore.
"I would take Jack Eichel, personally," said one.
Eichel, like McDavid, played at the world juniors this year. The American pivot was a point-per-gamer on Team USA's second line and was trusted with last-minute faceoffs when his team was down a goal. McDavid was more of a role player for the Canadians and while he could only play the minutes he was given, the Erie Otters superstar was limited to four points in seven games.
That's still respectable for an underage kid on a Canadian team that had traditionally depended on older players at the tourney and the master plan all along was for Malmo to be a training ground for McDavid. Next year's medal round is in Toronto and will likely be a showcase for the nearby Newmarket product.
Now, we saw this a bit last year when Jonathan Drouin played a bigger role than Nathan MacKinnon at the world juniors, but I personally never bit on that one. MacKinnon could play a grinding role and happily accepted it. We all knew he had high-end skill as well.
But Eichel is bigger than McDavid and putting up great numbers for the U.S. National Team Development Program, where he often plays against college teams such as Michigan and North Dakota. He plans on accelerating his schooling in order to play for Boston University next year, so he'll be an 18-year-old (like Tavares, he's a late birthday) in Hockey East, the best conference in the nation.
Naturally, things can change. If McDavid leads Erie to an OHL title this season, maybe we don't have this conversation again. But I've learned that it's important to listen to NHL scouts, since they're the ones that actually make the picks. And right now, a fair amount prefer Eichel.