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Worlds gave Eichel valuable experience as draft nears

by Michael Langr

PRAGUE -- When Jack Eichel arrives in Florida for the 2015 NHL Draft next month, he'll bring with him valuable experience from top-level international hockey. Eichel, NHL Central Scouting's No. 2-rated North American skater for this year's draft, performed well at the IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic, where he helped the United States win a bronze medal.

"It means a lot. I don't think anyone really thought we would be here at this position," Eichel said Sunday after he had an assist in a 3-0 win against the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal game. "For us to overcome a lot of odds and win a bronze medal in a tournament with a lot of skill and a lot of talent, it's really good for the confidence. We had a really young team. Our goaltender (Winnipeg Jets prospect Connor Hellebuyck) stepped up to play huge this entire tournament. For me personally it's really nice to get a medal from my first men's World Championship."

The 18-year old forward finished the tournament third on the United States in scoring with seven points in 10 games. Coach Todd Richards (Columbus Blue Jackets) put him on a line with forwards Trevor Lewis (Los Angeles Kings) and Brock Nelson (New York Islanders), and they developed into the best American line.

"Obviously there was a lot of good players around me that made me pretty successful here," Eichel said. "I've played with two NHLers and they helped me a lot. Not only them but everybody in the locker room. The coaches put me in really good situations."

Playing with Lewis, Nelson or Nick Bonino (Vancouver Canucks) and against many NHL standouts such as Russia's Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) and Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues), Finland goalie Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators), Switzerland defenseman Roman Josi (Nashville Predators) and Czech Republic forwards Jaromir Jagr (Florida Panthers) and Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia Flyers) gave Eichel an additional feel of how things might be in the NHL, where the Boston University forward is expected to play next season.

"Trevor Lewis has won a couple of Stanley Cups and Brock has been a good NHL player for a few years," Eichel said. "It was really nice to play with them. I learned a lot from them and they made the game pretty easy for me in terms of how hard they worked. ... Just being strong on my stick, move my feet away from the puck, just really simple things like that. Coming into a tournament like this, you never really played with your linemates and it took a few games to get used to each other. I think we tried to just get better each game and we had a nice finish. I just tried to compete hard each shift, play the game that I play and not try to change because I'm playing against better players."

Eichel had won a gold medal at the 2014 World Under-18 Championship and played in the World Junior Championship in 2014 and 2015; the U.S. finished fifth on each occasion.

"I don't think there is much difference for me here," he said. "I just tried to be myself no matter where I step on the ice, no matter who I'm playing. I don't try to change too much. What I've been doing my entire career is what's got me to this point. There's not really much reason to change now. Obviously when you're playing against bigger, stronger guys like these, you've got to get stronger with your stick, move your feet with the puck a little better and feel more aware in your own zone. But other than that I just tried to do things that made me successful."

Now that his World Championship is over, Eichel said he'll turn his focus to the NHL Scouting Combine, which runs May 31 to June 6, and then the draft, which will be held June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

"It's going to be a good experience," Eichel said. "I have about a month until then [the draft] and I think at this point it's been a really good year for me and my family. I'm just trying to enjoy it. It only happens once so I'll try to make the most of it and I'm sure at the draft it will be another great experience. It would be an honor to be selected to anyone."

The Edmonton Oilers, who won the NHL Draft Lottery, have the No. 1 pick, followed by the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes.

"I don't know, I can't tell you," Eichel said about his outlook. "I'm not the GM of the Sabres, I'm not the GM of the Oilers, the Coyotes, any of those teams. I would be more than happy to be selected by any of them."

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