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Comparing McDavid, Eichel in six categories

NHL.com rates top rookies in shot, hockey IQ and more with help of Kevin Weekes

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the top two picks in the 2015 NHL Draft, have lived up to all the hype and expectations as rookies this season.

McDavid and Eichel were the obvious frontrunners leading up to the draft because a big part of what made them remarkable was their consistency and ability to produce despite being the focal point for every opposing coach. They continually raised the bar and met expectations.

To no one's surprise, McDavid and Eichel have continued to grow their game in the NHL despite the pressure that may come with being considered generational talents.

McDavid persevered after missing 37 games with a fractured left clavicle, having scored nine goals and 28 points in 25 games since his return to the lineup on Feb. 2. He is fifth in rookie scoring with 40 points and leads all first-year players with a 1.05 points-per game average.

Eichel on two occasions this season went seven games without scoring a goal, something he had never experienced in his career. He also never played more than 58 games in a season, a total he reached as a member of USA Hockey's Under-18 National Team Development Program in 2013-14.

Eichel has already topped 70 games this season for the Buffalo Sabres, missing his first game with the flu Saturday. He ranks second among rookies with 49 points and leads all first-year players with eight power-play goals. He has said the effects of a long NHL season have taken a toll, but that's not surprising as a 19-year-old playing a top-six role and leading all rookie forwards in average ice time.

With less than three weeks remaining in the regular season, NHL.com decided to compare McDavid and Eichel in six different categories with the assistance of NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes.

Shooting: Eichel has averaged 3.02 shots-per game, and McDavid has averaged 2.28. They rely heavily on the wrist shot, according to enhanced statistics, but have also gone to the snap shot and backhand with some regularity. It's interesting to note Eichel has scored three goals on 14 slap shots. McDavid has yet to be credited with a slap shot this season.

Video: CAR@BUF: Eichel dazzles in win against Canes

Eichel also has made a habit of setting up for the big one-timer from the left circle on the power play; his average shot length is 33.7. McDavid prefers his scoring opportunities to be in tighter to the net with an average shot length of 18.5.

What made McDavid and Eichel effective shooters even before they reached the NHL was their deception with the puck. A defender or goaltender never really knew when the shot was coming, for fear they would find a way to get the puck to an open teammate sliding back door. It took about a quarter of the season to adjust to the caliber of play, but McDavid and Eichel are doing it again.

Weekes: "I would say Eichel (has the better shot) because I have seen him score from a farther distance and it is a little tougher to read his release since he holds his hands close together, not quite as high as Mario Lemieux did, but it's tough to read."

Playmaking: Puck possession is obviously a big component in judging playmaking ability. The Edmonton Oilers control more than 52 percent of all shots attempted when McDavid (52.56 SF%) is on the ice, a good foundation for explaining how great a playmaker he's been this season. When McDavid is taking a breather on the bench, the percentage of shot attempts dips to 45.84 SF% Off.

The Sabres generate a 45.38 SF% when Eichel is on the ice, and a 49.55 percentage when off.

McDavid averages 0.368 primary assists and ranks first among rookies with 1.46 Assists Per 60 Minutes at even strength 5-on-5; Eichel averages 0.236 primary assists and has a 0.85 A/60 at even strength 5-on-5.

Each player has started more shifts outside the offensive zone, which can make it more difficult to dominate puck possession in some instances. Eichel has started in the neutral zone or his own end 64 percent of the time and McDavid begins outside his end 67 percent of the time.

Weekes: "Overall, I'd say McDavid is a little bit more of a natural playmaker, but I've seen Eichel make some really nice plays lately too."

Hockey IQ: McDavid and Eichel are each on another level as teenagers when it comes to intelligence with the puck. They can make split-second decisions while going full speed and it's fun to watch. They have the ability to pull fans out of the seats whenever they possess the puck and begin that surge through the neutral zone.

Video: EDM@MIN: McDavid uses speed to net go-ahead goal

In an interview with NHL Live earlier this season, McDavid admitted to one obvious difference between junior hockey and the League.

"I think one of the biggest things is that no one really makes mistakes; everyone is always in the right position," McDavid said. "There's never any turnovers to make a quick attack, so I think some of those mistakes you normally would take advantage of in juniors just haven't been there at this level."

McDavid excels at making plays off the offensive cycle and in close quarters. He's so dangerous in the open ice and is a threat each time he gains a full head of steam. His head is always up, seeking the trailer or a way to give a teammate a good scoring opportunity.

Eichel is thinking and creating off the rush while taking those long strides through the neutral zone. It's amazing to think opposing coaches are now concocting ways to make sure more than one player is shadowing McDavid or Eichel each game. They're that good.

Weekes: "I'd give McDavid the slight edge, but this is like asking someone if they want a Ferrari or a Lamborghini; you can't go wrong with either."

Skating: McDavid is to the ice what a water bug is to the pond, having that ability to skim along the surface in any direction and somehow alter his route and maintain that speed at any point. He offers a lot more flash and can accelerate to a point where opposing defenders are rendered helpless if he gets the corner on his edges.

"With McDavid, everything about his game revolves around speed and quickness," said Dan Marr, Director of NHL Central Scouting. "Not only he is an outstanding skater, he processes the game and reacts so quickly on the ice that he often is making a difference on every shift he plays. The NHL speed, hockey sense and skill set he possesses are a strong blend of Joe Sakic and Sidney Crosby."

Eichel is more old school. He can get from Point A to Point B by way of long, fluid strides. That style also makes him virtually impossible to contain 1-on-1 in the open ice and along the half wall. 

"With the puck on his stick there's a little bit different electricity in the air," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said of Eichel.

Weekes: "McDavid is more of a dynamic skater and more explosive, but Eichel is very graceful and very fast, and in full gear it looks like he is not even trying and he is flying. He's very elegant. McDavid is more explosive, Eichel is more elegant."

Physicality: Eichel (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) has averaged 0.54 hits per game and McDavid (6-1, 190) has averaged 0.23. Eichel has endured more punishment having playing 34 more games to this point. Eichel has been on the receiving end of 76 hits (1.05 per game) and McDavid has taken 41 hits (1.07). 

They have earned tough minutes against many of the top defensive pairs and checking lines in the League, yet have found ways to create and dazzle on most nights.

"We saw [Mark Messier] evolve as this powerful, skilled player," TSN hockey analyst Craig Button told the Boston Globe. "[Messier] had this almost unstoppable quality about him as he grew older. I don't see that same kind of nastiness in Jack, but because of his skating, I think he has that skill to run over people, just be a bear to play against.

"It's a force of will you don't see in many players."

Eichel's second goal of the season in the third period of a 4-2 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 12 was a prime example of his strength. After failing on a pass attempt in the slot to Matt Moulson, he bodied off Boone Jenner for a loose puck at the left point, skated back to the left circle and fired a shot over the left shoulder of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.  

Weekes: "Eichel is a little bit bigger and a little bit longer, so I give the edge to him."

Faceoffs: Each player has made tremendous strides in this area. Eichel has taken the most faceoffs of any rookie this season and has won 368 of 892 (41.3 percent). McDavid has won 206 of 502 (41 percent).

In their only meeting of the season on March 1, McDavid scored two goals in a 2-1 overtime win at Buffalo. Eichel didn't have a point but did win 4 of 5 faceoffs against McDavid, including all three in the third period. He finished 47 percent on faceoffs (10-for-21) in the game. 

Weekes: "They are both learning so much in that area now but I think Eichel is a little further along in that area, even though they both have so much to learn defensively." 

NHL.com staff writer David Satriano contributed to this report

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