BUFFALO -- Boston University freshman Jack Eichel certainly left quite an impression on the 7,310 fans who witnessed his performance at the third annual CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game on Thursday at First Niagara Center.
Eichel, a likely top-two pick at the 2015 NHL Draft, was named player of the game after scoring a goal, getting an assist, and generating four shots with a plus-3 rating. He dazzled with a few highlight-reel moves, defended his teammates early in the game, and had some picturesque passes in the offensive zone to help Team Mike Grier to a 6-3 victory against Team Ed Olczyk.
Olczyk, asked for his evaluation of Eichel after seeing him at ice level for the first time, offered a review for the ages.
"I haven't seen a player at that level with a reach and a stick like that since Mario [Lemieux]," Olczyk said. "When he skates up into the play and into the zone, with one hand on his stick, spreading his arms, showing that arm length with the stick flailing, it's like a 747 going up ice, and I'm not kidding.
"Mario is as great as there's ever been, and I was lucky to play with him, against him and, well, I tried to coach him, and Jack's reach, to me, was what I took out of his play. It was incredible."
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-shot center will have to listen to comparisons all season between him and Erie Otters center Connor McDavid, who might be the favorite as the No. 1 pick at this stage.
With reviews like Olczyk's, however, Eichel could supplant McDavid (who did not participate in this game) sooner rather than later. Grier was undoubtedly grateful to have Eichel as part of his team.
"He has confidence, which is great," Grier said. "That comes with being a skill guy. When you see the elite skill players around the NHL, like [Patrick] Kane and [Jaromir] Jagr, and Lemieux, there's never ever concern or pause when they have the puck. You always think they're going to make the play, beat the guy and find the open man, and they never panic. Jack has that trait."
Grier added, "In a scrum early in the game when [Jordan Greenway] got hit from behind and kind of got roughed, Jack went in for his teammate, and that was good to see."
Eichel scored an even-strength goal 11:13 into the third period to give Team Grier a 4-2 lead. Power forward Greenway (U.S. National Team Development Program, USHL) and defenseman Brandon Carlo (Tri-City Americans, WHL) did the work in the right-wing corner to knock the puck loose. Greenway then fed to Eichel, who collected the puck between the circles and snapped a shot over the left pad of goalie Ryan Larkin (24 saves).
"We had a hard forecheck and we went in and [Eichel] called for the puck in the slot and I gave it to him and he buried it with a good finish," Greenway said. "He always wants the puck and is great with it, so why not give it to him. It was great playing with him and I hope I can in the future."
Greenway (two assists) may get that chance if Eichel remains in college for the 2015-16 season, when Greenway begins his freshman year at Boston University.
Team Grier also was led by wing Jeremy Bracco (USNTDP, USHL) with two goals; center Alec Baer (Vancouver Giants, WHL) with one goal and one assist; and goalies Luke Opilka (USNTDP, USHL) with 22 saves on 23 shots and Ryan Bednard (Johnstown Tomahawks, NAHL) with 19 saves on 21 shots.
"This was my first game (since August at the World Junior evaluation camp in Lake Placid) so I had to get my feet under me and get used to playing with these great players," Eichel said. "It was a lot of fun playing with Bracco, Greenway and [Kyle] Connor. It's just exciting to be playing hockey again."
The teams combined for five goals in the second period with Team Grier taking a 3-2 lead. Team Grier got goals from forwards Baer, Bracco and Connor Moynihan (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL). Team Olczyk scored an even-strength goal by Brendan Warren (USNTDP, USHL) and a power-play goal by Tom Novak (Waterloo Black Hawks, USHL).
Eichel set up Bracco's goal 13:10 into the second period to give Team Grier a 2-1 lead. After Eichel maneuvered his way to the right hash, attracting the attention of two opposing players, he quickly fed Bracco stationed at the bottom of the left circle. The 5-foot-9, 173-pound right-handed wing quickly ripped a shot from the tough angle into the top corner.
Wing Karch Bachman (Culver Military Academy) extended the lead to 3-1 when he was assisted by Baer and Carlo at 14:27. Novak's goal to pull Team Olczyk within 3-2 at 16:44 came off a good work behind the cage by forward Brock Boeser (Waterloo Black Hawks, USHL) and defenseman Grant Gabriele (USNTDP, USHL).
"The Baer, [Ryan] Smith and Bachman line got us going," Grier said. "It was on the smaller side, but they used their speed and played good give-and-go hockey."
A scoreless first period was highlighted by some strong play from USNTDP teammates Michael Lackey (Team Olczyk) with 10 saves and Luke Opilka (Team Grier) with 16 saves. Lackey's best stop came with eight minutes left when he denied a shorthanded attempt by Baer off a 2-on-1 with his right pad.
"They had a lot of chances in the first and [Opilka] came up big and gave us momentum," Eichel said. "He made all those great saves and that helped us and we picked it up in the second."
Lackey (6-3, 214) was in good position to deny Eichel's nifty move down the middle that created quite a stir throughout the arena. Opilka made a great glove save off an uncontested snap shot from the slot by Paul Bittner (Portland Winterhawks, WHL) with less than two minutes remaining. Lackey made 15 saves on 16 shots.
Defenseman Noah Hanifin (Boston College), projected to go top 10 at the 2015 draft, also had a strong game, particularly in the first period when the 6-2, 201-pound left-handed shot made several smart decisions and a few timely rushes to give Team Olczyk quality scoring opportunities.
"Noah has a world of talent and a bite to his game too," Olczyk said. "I didn't know that but heard about it and saw it a couple of times where he was looking to wish someone a happy birthday four months early. It's tough to find guys like that."
Tanner Laczynski (Chicago Steel, USHL) closed the scoring for Team Olczyk with 52 seconds left.
Prior to the ceremonial opening faceoff, there was a moment of silence for Bob Suter, who died Sept. 10 at the age of 57. Suter is the first playing member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team to die. Herb Brooks, coach of the "Miracle on Ice" team, died Aug. 11, 2003 in an automobile accident.