SANTA CRUZ, August 13, 2014 — The NHL season has yet to begin, but scouts and general managers are already plotting for ways to put themselves in position to draft either Connor McDavid, a six foot center from Newmarket, Ontario, or Jack Eichel, the six foot one inch forward from North Chelmsford, Massachusetts.
The story lines surrounding these two are numerous and, while we will have to wait to see how the upcoming NHL season shakes out to see which clubs select them, there is little doubt that they are the two top prospects for the 2015 draft.
A few years ago, there was similar buzz regarding Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall, both Canadians, both playing in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). This past draft saw three players at the top of the prospect heap, each with a legitimate shot at going number one overall. For the upcoming 2015 draft in Sunrise, Florida, most scouts and GMs agree that there is McDavid and Eichel, and then there is everybody else.
Unlike the Tyler/Taylor speculation of a few years ago, the Eichel/McDavid story spans two countries and two distinct paths to the NHL. McDavid is Canadian, and is playing major junior hockey, not unlike most elite Canadian players. Interestingly, McDavid plays for the Erie Otters, a club based in the U.S. (Erie, Pennsylvania). He had an unreal 99 points in 56 games last year, his second after being granted exceptional status by the league and Hockey Canada to enter the OHL as a fifteen year old.
Eichel has followed the conventional path for U.S.-born players, biding his time in the United States Hockey League (USHL) with U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP), and representing the U.S. internationally with both the under 18 and world junior teams last year. Eichel has signed a letter of intent to attend Boston University and will play for the Terriers in the fall.
Eichel’s stats are not as spectacular as McDavid’s, but it is an unfair comparison as the OHL plays more games per season. The Eichel vs McDavid debate is perfect for North American hockey fans because it reignites the U.S./Canada rivalry, one which has become particularly relevant in recent years with the U.S. taking two gold medals at the prestigious world junior championships, including one in which they defeated Canada in the gold medal game.
Another storyline following these two elite players is the college vs junior argument. Each side will claim it better prepares a player for professional hockey, and both points are supported by current NHL players. Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise played college hockey, Sidney Crosby and John Tavares played junior, to name just a few examples. One advantage the OHL has is its pro-style schedule, which has teams playing almost twice as many games as their NCAA counterparts.
Even players who elect to play college hockey are almost always drafted by a junior team as well, and those teams often keep them on their protected lists in case the player changes their mind.
Lately, once players are drafted by an NHL team, more college players are electing to leave school and join the junior clubs which hold their rights. For the pro team it makes sense. It puts their prospect into more games per week, and helps them adjust to the grind and preparation of a pro schedule. Eichel’s junior rights are held by the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QJHML).
Both McDavid and Eichel show signs of being able to step into the pro game right away, but if the teams which draft them decide to let them develop for another year, it will be interesting to see where Eichel plays next season. With the faster pace, higher level of direct competition, and more grueling schedule of junior hockey, Eichel may not be long for Boston University, especially if his future NHL team has anything to say about it.