The Oilers and Sabres Will Get Franchise Altering Talents in the NHL Draft

Posted: 06/17/2015 by levcohen in Hockey

In hockey, like in basketball and unlike in baseball, the first few picks usually turn into good players. That’s why you don’t usually hear people talking about baseball busts; there are too many of them. Busts are noteworthy in hockey (guys like Rick DiPietro, Cam Barker, and Aleander Svitov in recent times come to mind) and basketball (Kwame Brown, Adam Morrison, Darko Milicic, and now seemingly Anthony Bennett) because they are generally the exception in the top five, not the rule. Top picks don’t always become superstars, but they generally turn into good contributors. This draft, though, is different, in that there are two guys at the top who seem almost locks to become franchise cornerstones. I’ll write about those guys today. It’s also not a two man draft, as scouts have said it’s one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. That (and the fact that the Flyers were bad enough to secure a top-10 pick) is why I’m more excited for this NHL draft than I ever have been.

It’s a mistake to put Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel in the same category. McDavid is on a different level. I don’t know if there’s been a more surefire stud top pick since, well, Sidney Crosby. Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg seemed pretty safe, but in baseball nothing can be taken for granted. A number of first overall picks in the NBA draft have turned out to be studs (every player picked #1 from 2008-2012 has become a star) but none of them came into the league without notable question marks. The closest was probably Andrew Luck, but there was even some question over whether the Colts should draft Luck or Robert Griffin III. There is no such question when it comes to McDavid. The 18-year old has been known as “The Next One” since he became the third player to play in the Ontario Hockey League at 15. The first two? John Tavares and Aaron Ekblad. You might have heard of those two former first overall picks; Tavares finished this past season with 86 points, one off the NHL high, while Ekblad is one of the candidates for Rookie of the Year despite being a 19-year old defenseman.

McDavid is already a fantastic player and could probably center the Taylor Hall line tomorrow. Last season, as a 17-year old, he scored 44 goals and added 76 assists… in 47 games. This despite the fact that McDavid’s biggest “weakness” is his shooting. He also has 38 points in 26 games for Canada while playing in various tournaments. So the stats are obviously there. And everything else is there, too. At 6’1″ and 194 pounds, McDavid is the perfect size for an elite center (and two inches taller than Crosby). He’s physical (broke his hand in a fight) yet nimble, powerful yet quick. Best of all, he contributes on the defensive end, too. The fact that it’s impossible to take the puck off of him or force a bad pass means that McDavid is going to be a stats darling, too, and it’s hard to score against someone when your team can’t get the puck. But perhaps his best traits are his vision (and passing ability) along with his hockey IQ, which allow him to pick out the right passes (hence the gobs of assists) and be around the puck almost constantly. This is an incredibly skilled and incredibly smart player, and guys like that him rarely (if ever) bust. Oh, and if all of that isn’t enough, check out this video of some of McDavid’s highlights (and keep in mind that this was two years ago). Or just watch a period of a game McDavid is playing in. He’s the real deal.

Given the fact that McDavid is almost guaranteed to become the next Sidney Crosby, it makes sense that the Sabres were pretty heartbroken when they failed to get the #1 pick after finishing with the worst record in hockey. Eichel will make for a terrific consolation prize, though. After playing a year at Boston College, it’s clear that the 18-year old is going to be a pretty good professional too. He won the Hobey Baker Award, given to the best college hockey player in the country, and racked up 26 goals and 45 assists in 40 games. Those aren’t Connor McDavid stats, but they are pretty darn good considering that Eichel was playing against guys three years older than he was. He’s also picked up 24 points in 29 games for the US in various tournaments. Eichel’s an inch taller than McDavid and might be even faster. His puck handling is also incredible and his playmaking ability is sublime. Again, if you don’t believe me, check out this video. He won’t tally as many points as McDavid, but nobody will. And while McDavid has been compared to Crosby, Eichel’s thought to be a poor man’s Mario Lemieux. Mario Lemieux just so happens to be the second best hockey player of all time. If McDavid produces at a point-per-game level, which I think is very possible, I think Eichel I will be just a shade under that. Doesn’t 70 points seem pretty realistic? Regardless of the exact point totals, the continued development of both McDavid and Eichel will be fascinating.

It’s a shame that the two studs will be placed in different conferences, because this rivalry has a real chance to become a better version of the Sid-Ovechkin feud. There’s the fact that they’ll be forever linked as the top two picks in the 2015 draft, but there’s also the nationality factor (Eichel is American and McDavid is Canadian) and the fact that both are two way centers. It’s been a long time since you could say that about the top two picks in a draft, which is what makes this year’s draft so special. I hope that Eichel and McDavid one day face off for the Stanley Cup, but even if they don’t, it’ll be a joy to see them excel in the NHL.

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