Jack Eichel has thrown his tag up first in Buffalo.
Next month, fellow 2015 draft phenom Connor McDavid will get his chance to match when his Erie Otters face the Niagara IceDogs at the First Niagara Center, but as MVP of the third annual All-American Prospects Game, Eichel drew first blood.
The big pivot from North Chelmsford, Mass., had a goal and two points as Team Grier defeated Team Olczyk 6-3 and there was no doubt who the top prospect was.
“When you see him out there with the best draft-eligible kids and you see the different gear he has that no one else has, it's impressive,” said coach Mike Grier, the former NHLer. “The elite skill players around the NHL – Patrick Kane and going back to Jagr and Lemieux – there's never any concern or pause when they have the puck. They think they're going to make the play, they're going to beat the guy, they're going to find the open man – they never panic and he has that trait.”
Funny enough, while Eichel was buzzing all game, he didn't find results until Grier's assistant coach, Don Granato, suggested shifting high-end Michigan recruit Kyle Connor off the top line. Jordan Greenway, a hulking winger with the National Team Development Program, jumped up to play with Eichel and the electric Jeremy Bracco (also NTDP). Both Grier and Eichel credited Greenway for doing the dirty work for the line, while Connor got more space to shine with Jack Roslovic and Connor Moynihan.
And even though Eichel looked to be in mid-season form, he claimed he's just getting started.
“I was just excited to play hockey again,” he said. “I was trying to play hard and move my feet – I hadn't played in a while and I wanted to shake the rust off.”
He shook more than rust off. Eichel seemed to come at his opponents like a punishing tide, constantly pushing the puck towards the net and using his speed to create havoc for opposing defensemen. When he couldn't go around players, he would bull his way through them.
With the initial challenge of 2014-15 behind him, Eichel can now concentrate on getting his college career going. He's a freshman at Boston University and will no doubt be a focal point of a Terriers team looking to climb the ladder in Hockey East. Eichel said he's very excited to don the Scarlet and White a week from now and there's no doubt the Terriers have a better shot at snatching the city's Beanpot crown away from rival Boston College with the youngster on their side.
There's also the matter of being compared and contrasted with the Ontario League's McDavid all season long, as Eichel will also be one of the big stories at the 2015 draft in Florida. Dealing with the hype has officially begun.
“I guess it's just part of this experience,” Eichel said. “I try not to think about it. The 2015 draft is a while away; it's in June and we're only in September. I'm just trying to enjoy myself and keep getting better.”
Here are five other players who impressed in Buffalo:
Jeremy Bracco – Though he comes in at just 5-foot-9, the Boston College commit has dynamite vision as a playmaker and skates effortlessly. He has an accurate shot and potted two goals on the night.
Noah Hanifin – The incoming Boston College freshman looked unflappable out there. Despite being a focal point for the opposition, the big defenseman made quick, sharp plays with the puck.
Alec Baer – The Vancouver Giants pivot isn't huge, but he creates a lot of chances offensively and cashed in early with a deft deflection at the side of the net. He added an assist after that.
Brandon Carlo – At 6-foot-5, the Tri-City Americans defenseman takes up a lot of space on the blueline with his long reach, which he uses very well. Carlo also moves pretty quickly and had two helpers.
Michael Lackey – The Harvard-committed goaltender from Washington, D.C., made some very tough saves against Eichel's crew early on. The NTDP netminder has a great 6-foot-3, 214-pound frame.