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Eichel, McDavid debate 'best player in the draft'

NHL.com @NHL

BUFFALO -- Jack Eichel is expected to be the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, behind Connor McDavid.

But Eichel firmly believes he is the No. 1 player in this draft, and he has been telling teams at the NHL Scouting Combine, including the Buffalo Sabres, who hold that second pick, just that.

"I'm pretty confident in my own abilities," Eichel said Friday after word of his self-assessment leaked out. "I know everyone's making a big deal that I said a comment like that; I don't think it was meant at all about ... it wasn't me comparing myself to Connor or anything like that, it was more of me thinking that I'm the best player in the draft.

"It's more of just confidence in my own self; I didn't really think it was going to be a big deal. I thought that was pretty confidential within the team, but ..."

McDavid, expected to be taken No. 1 by the Edmonton Oilers, who won the NHL Draft Lottery, was asked if he felt he was the best player in this draft class.

"That's not up for me to decide," McDavid told the Sabres website. "I think a lot of people do a lot of talking and they'll judge for their own eyes. I believe in my abilities and that's the main thing. But if I feel I'm the best player in the draft, I'm not sure. Maybe you'll hear a different answer from Jack. But, we'll see."

Sabres general manager Tim Murray on Friday told Buffalo radio station WGR 550 that Eichel did tell him he plans on being better than McDavid, considered one of the best NHL prospects since Sidney Crosby in 2005.

Eichel said he did not realize expressing his confidence would cause the stir it did.

"I don't think it's a bad thing at all," Eichel said. "That's why I said I don't know why people are making a deal of it."

Eichel and McDavid have been considered top prospects and compared to each other for years. Eichel played this season for Boston University in Hockey East; McDavid played for Erie in the Ontario Hockey League.

"It seems like we've been linked together forever but I guess that's part of it," Eichel said. "You look at a lot of major sports, there's comparisons between athletes in every sport. So the media is going to compare two players in a majority of sports, and it just so happens that we're being compared now. I mean, we're in two different situations playing in two different leagues from two different countries, so ..."

The 18-year-olds had not met until this week at the Combine. The 2015 draft will be held June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

"I spent a little bit of time with him, yeah, he's a pretty good kid," Eichel said. "He wouldn't be here and he wouldn't have accomplished everything he has if he wasn't, so ... a lot of people made a big deal of the fact that we hadn't met before, so, you know, it's nice to finally meet him."

McDavid said, "I got to know him a little bit better. It's been interesting, obviously. We've been linked together for so long now you start to feel like you know him, and it was good to finally meet him and get to know him a little bit better. ... He's just a nice guy."

Murray said Eichel was "ready, he was prepared, he was quick, he was sharp, he was impressive" in his interview with the Sabres. The GM did not think Eichel was out of line saying he would be better than McDavid.

"I think he should say that," Murray told the "Schopp and the Bulldog" program. "Why not say that? I think he believes it. I think that the way he played this season -- we called it a two-horse race all year -- so why should he not believe that?

"Why should he not believe that his skill set, his whole package -- size, skating ability, puck skills, hockey sense -- as I said the whole package, he's confident in it. He backed up that confidence with his play this year, had a tremendous year. So I don't know why he wouldn't believe that he's the best player in the draft."

Eichel this season became the second freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in NCAA hockey. He led college players with 71 points in 40 games and helped Boston University win the Beanpot Tournament, the Hockey East regular-season and playoff championship, and advance to the NCAA championship game. Eichel was captain for the United States at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship and helped the U.S. team win the bronze medal at the 2015 World Championship.

McDavid had 169 points in 67 games during the OHL regular season and playoffs, and helped Canada win the gold medal at the 2015 WJC.

Eichel was asked if he thought the comparisons to McDavid were fair.

"I don't think it's really up to me if it's fair or not," he said. "It's a comparison; I think it's good competition for the two of us."

Eichel has not said if he will return to Boston University for his sophomore season. Murray said, based on Eichel's interview, it does not seem like he would.

"If you believe you're the best guy in the draft, and you can't wait to prove it, the NHL is where you go to prove it," Murray said.

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