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Eichel carries valuable lessons from WJC experience

by Mike G. Morreale

BOSTON -- Just because Jack Eichel was the youngest player on the roster, he wasn't necessarily eased into action for the United States National Junior Team during the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Sweden.

He played a top-six role and earned valuable minutes in key moments of every game. He also learned some valuable lessons.

"This is a tournament about being disciplined and being resilient," Eichel said. "Those are two things the coaches really stressed. If you have a bad shift or game, you need to remember it's a three-week tournament and not one or two games. It's all about getting to the medal round, getting into the playoffs, and then moving through your bracket beating those top teams."

Eichel finished with one goal and five points, a plus-1 rating and was fifth with 15 shots on goal in five games for the fifth-place Americans. He received a good primer to what life would be like entering this year's world juniors as a media magnet and potential top-two pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

"I think you will always have a target on your back," Eichel said. "I don't try and think about it too much. I just try and do what I can to help the team win."

The journey to solidify his status as one of the top junior-aged hockey players in the world began in earnest Tuesday with the opening of USA Hockey's selection camp on the campus of Boston University at Walter Brown Arena. The camp will help determine the final 23-man roster that will represent the country at the WJC beginning Dec. 26 against defending champion Finland in the preliminary round.

"I'm just going to try to X-out all the outside distractions and focus on playing hockey, because that's what this tournament is about," Eichel said. "We want to be a really good team in transition, create back pressure and strip pucks. We want to turn it to attack quickly and want to be a puck-possession team by holding the puck for the majority of the game. I feel that with the type of players we have and type of speed we have, I think that'll be our strong suit."

The freshman center at Boston University hit the Christmas break as the NCAA leader with 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists) and a 1.69 points-per-game (PPG) average in 16 games. He was all smiles when discussing BU coach David Quinn.

"He's taught me so much about the details and how I need to be all over the ice, but he's not trying to prepare me to play against college players; rather, he's preparing me to play against the best players in the world, so I really appreciate that," Eichel said. "He's hard on me, but it's something I need. He's so attentive to details and always on me at practice; he's made me better."

Not since University of Maine freshman Paul Kariya, who averaged 2.56 PPG in his record-breaking season with the Black Bears in 1992-93, has a draft-eligible freshman produced a better PPG average. The individual success is one thing, but Eichel had something else in mind when asked for the one thing he was most proud of over the first half of the season.

"Our team success," he said. "We're a young team and had high expectations for ourselves, but I don't know how many people would have said we would have been No. 1 in the country at the break in the rankings. I'm just really happy where our game is at, but even more for the second half of the season."

Mark Osiecki, coach of the United States National Junior Team, likes what he sees in Eichel. He said he feels the pressure of playing on the big stage in Canada at the World Junior Championship will not distract him from getting the job done.

"The best thing about Jack is that he's just a humble kid and he handles pressure unbelievably well," Osiecki said. "He's easy to talk with as a staff and we're not too worried about [pressure] too much; he doesn't have to shoulder all the pressure."

Osiecki, who as an assistant at the University of Wisconsin helped recruit New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, said he seeks a lot of resemblance in on- and off-ice demeanor between Eichel and McDonagh.

"Very similar personalities," Osiecki said. "They are both very businesslike and very even-keel."

Many fans of the world juniors are looking forward to the head-to-head matchup between Eichel and Canada's Connor McDavid, who is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft. McDavid was recently given clearance to begin practicing in preparation for the tournament after sustaining a broken right pinky on Nov. 11 in a fight while playing for the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League.

Eichel refuses to get reeled into any of the hype surrounding himself and McDavid.

"To be honest, I'm not thinking about [McDavid]," Eichel said. "This tournament is not about me versus him. It's all about Team USA, and that's what I'm focused on. I haven't been focused on him, don't read any articles about Canada.

"I had two final [exams] on Monday [in Humanities] and just finished up school."

Eichel, who served predominantly as the top-line center during USA Hockey development camp in August alongside Tyler Motte and Alex Tuch, was again on a line with those players on the opening day of camp. Eichel and Motte were teammates in 2012-13 with the United States National Team Development Program Under-18 team. Even though Tuch plays for Boston College, Eichel said they can put aside their collegiate rivalry for a few weeks.

"Both of them are great shooters and I like to pass the puck, so it works well with them," Eichel said. "I think people are trying to take my shot away or get on me quicker, so I've been trying to move the puck faster. They create space for me and they work extremely hard."

Eichel has been held to one shot in each of the past three games for Boston University, but has produced six assists over that stretch.


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