LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel, the 17-year-old center expected to be one of the top two picks at the 2015 NHL Draft, says his life is consumed by hockey.
That statement has been true for a long time, actually.
"I started playing when I was around 3," Eichel said. "I was pushing a crate around the Janas Rink in Lowell, Mass. My dad used to get me out of school when I was in elementary school, kindergarten, and I would skate with him. He would come pick me up and we'd play pickup and stuff. Since then he's given me as much hockey as I wanted."
Eichel has taken advantage of all that ice time, developing into a prospect ready for the NHL as soon as the 2015-16 season.
"He could probably jump into the NHL right now with his skating ability," United States national junior team coach Mark Osiecki said. "Physical-wise he has a ways to go, but he's an unbelievable talent."
That talent started taking shape in leagues around Boston, and really began to blossom in two seasons with the United States National Team Development Program. He arrived there in the fall of 2012 as one of the younger players in the program, but it didn't take long for his future teammates to know they had someone special playing with them.
"Day 1 of tryout camp for the NTDP, when you saw him skate, that's what stands out, his skating," teammate Sonny Milano said. "Watching him skate, watching him glide around, it's like he flies on the ice."
Eichel had 34 points in 36 games in 2012-13 with the Under-17 team, and 10 goals and 18 points in 22 games with the U-18 team despite missing time early in the season recovering from two concussions. Last season he was dominant, leading the U-18 team with 38 goals in 53 games, and tying Milano, his linemate, for tops on the team with 87 points.
"He's an all-around player," Milano said. "Offensively, defensively, he's got it all, hands, speed, size. It was a tremendous year playing with him. He makes guys around him better. ... You think he's the oldest guy out there the way he plays. I know he's younger but you don't look at him as a younger guy. You look up to a guy like that. He's real mature out there. He's physical, doesn't shy away from anything."
Eichel also earned a spot on the American team in the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, and playing against competition that was as much as two years older, many of whom had been through NHL training camps, he had one goal and four assists in five games.
The lessons he learned going through that experience have served him well as he works toward earning a spot on the 2015 WJC team.
"I have to expect more out of myself, and I think the coaching staff and everyone on the team expects more out of me," Eichel said. "My responsibility is a lot higher this year than it was last year."
While the World Junior team won't be picked until December, Osiecki said Eichel will be relied upon heavily.
"Jack Eichel is an offensive player and we have to hold him accountable offensively," Osiecki said. "He's a special player and we have to lean on him offensively to be that difference maker, be a player that can make everyone around him better; offensively for sure."
Eichel will try to make his new teammates at Boston University better this season. He said he considered moving to the Canadian Hockey League -- the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League own his rights -- but college hockey was the more appealing option.
"You take into account all your options," said Eichel, who already has moved onto a campus that is about a 30-minute drive from his parents' home. "You can never put anything down. It's always about having options and keeping everything open. I never really ruled it out but I had known college is what I want to do. I made a commitment to Boston University and I plan on fulfilling that commitment and going there and playing college hockey. BU is the next step in my development and it's a better route for me at this time. I get to play against older players, the coaching staff is great. I like everything about it."
That includes playing fewer games and getting more time in the gym to pack muscle on his 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame and extra practice time to improve his play away from the puck.
“At the end of the day I'll end up playing around 40 games for BU and hopefully I'll get the chance to play at the World Junior Championship," he said
Assuming he makes the WJC team, it will give NHL scouts another prime viewing opportunity while also adding to the pressure which comes with it being Eichel's draft season.
"You really just try not to think about it," Eichel said. "It's in the back of your mind, your draft year, but you have to play it like it's any other season because that's what's made you successful."
And that success could lead to him being the first player picked in the draft. Eichel and center Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League already have separated themselves from a talented draft pack this season, and it's likely that one of them will hear his name called first in June.
"I think it's in everyone's competitive nature that they want to go No. 1," Eichel said. "If I sat here and told you I didn't want to go No. 1 I'd be lying."
Instead Eichel will focus on the things he loves about hockey, and has loved ever since he was pushing that crate around Janas Rink.
"I just love being on the ice," he said. "I love to skate. I love the feeling you get when you score a goal or your team scores a goal. I love the camaraderie, being around the guys. It's such a great sport, so much passion."
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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