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Countdown to talent-filled 2015 NHL Draft begins

by Mike G. Morreale

PHILADELPHIA -- The conclusion of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center signals the official opening of the Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel sweepstakes for the 2015 event at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

In a draft that looks to be loaded with talent across the board, McDavid of the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League and Eichel, who will be a freshman at Boston University in Hockey East, will be the two headliners.

Each is a center who possesses two qualities that are tough to teach: work ethic and big-game ability. Each represented his country at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Sweden; McDavid played for Canada and Eichel for the United States. They'll likely be going head-to-head at the 2015 World Juniors in Montreal and Toronto beginning Dec. 26.

"To get on the team again would be so exciting in Montreal and Toronto around Christmastime," Eichel told Saturday. "There are a great group of guys who could potentially make the team, and there's a great coaching staff, so it should be another great tournament."

Eichel was taking in all the sights and sounds of the 2014 draft at Wells Fargo Center this weekend in support of his teammates on the United States National Team Development Program Under-18 team. He certainly had a lot to cheer about; 12 members of that USNTDP team were drafted.

"That's why I was here, to support those guys and see where they were taken because they worked so hard and they really deserve to be drafted," Eichel said. "I was happy to see Dylan Larkin go [No. 15] to the Detroit Red Wings. He's an unbelievable player and person. It was great spending two years with him. He's an unbelievable skater and he goes so hard in practice."

Eichel (6-foot-1, 191 pounds) led the USNTDP with 32 goals and 71 points in 43 games despite being the youngest player on the team (turns 18 Oct. 28).

"His speed and strength are uncommon in a player his age, and those attributes allow him to get separation on the ice offensively and excel defensively," U-18 coach Danton Cole said. "I would also add that his compete level is very high and he wants to win regardless of the situation, even at the end of practice. The bigger the moment in our games, you can tell he wants to end it and he has the ability to do so. Coaches like that in a player."

Asked to provide an NHL comparison to Eichel, Cole suggested Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks or Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings.

"He has the size and scoring, plus the good stick like those two players," Cole said. "I think his skating explosiveness is off the charts though."

Eichel acknowledged he and McDavid haven't gotten any real opportunity to get to know each other. Perhaps that will change in their draft year.

"I don't really talk to him and I wouldn't really consider us friends since I don't know him that well," Eichel said. "You see he's publicized and I watch how he does, but I don't focus on him. It's not really about him. It's just about me trying to become a better hockey player."

McDavid (6-foot, 185 pounds), who won OHL Rookie of the Year in 2012-13, earned three honors in the league's Western Conference this season for best playmaker, best skater and, for the second straight season, best stickhandler. He finished fourth in the OHL in scoring with 99 points (28 goals, 71 assists) in 56 regular-season games, and has 165 points (53 goals) in 119 games during his two seasons in junior hockey.

McDavid, who didn't attend the draft, is being labeled as the best pro prospect since Sidney Crosby.

"McDavid never takes a shift off and, to be honest, I believe may be the one to beat in the 2015 draft," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "But as we know, Eichel has the whole year to prove himself."


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