It’s easy to forget, but Jack Eichel is only finishing his freshman year at Boston University.
The rookie phenom is expected to go second overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, but would be the uncontested first overall pick at any draft prior. It’s likely he would have beat out players like Taylor Hall, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, and — if Boston fans want to think back to the controversial, iconic center they selected first overall two decades ago — he probably would have given Big Joe Thornton a run for his money, too.
With a Hobey Baker and a Beanpot championship under his belt after just one regular season — not to mention a Tim Taylor honor, tournament MVP from the Beanpot, and just about every inconsequential honor in between — Eichel is decorated more than most hockey players will be over four years in the NCAA. With a high talent ceiling, a feisty style, and a year of bigger-sized competition than any of his fellow draftees heading in from the CHL, Eichel should be ready to jump ship for the NHL as soon as his name is called in Sunrise, Florida.
Boston University announced on Friday, though, that the Massachusetts native has been named an alternate captain for the upcoming NCAA season — throwing any guarantees that the center is headed directly to the pros out the window.
Next year's assistant captains are Danny O'Regan, Matt Lane and Jack Eichel.
— Boston Hockey Blog (@BOShockeyblog) April 18, 2015
Of course, it could just be a formality. Should he abandon ship next year, the team would have little to no trouble replacing number nine with another skater on the lettered leadership list.
As a Boston native who spent his childhood dreaming of winning a championship with Boston University, though, Eichel fell short of the Frozen Four title by just a hair this spring — and although teams may be eager to suit him up and debut him next fall, there’s always the chance that he’d like another shot at the national title.
Eichel has been smart enough since day one to refuse confirming that he’d jump ship from the Hockey East in order to join an NHL roster next season, always seeming to give answers along the lines of him making his decision once he’s been officially drafted. Some NHL gms may even be fine with him heading back to college for another season, even two — after all, with Auston Matthews as the projected first overall pick in the following draft class, it’s hard to say no to another season in the draft lottery. Add in that next year will draw for the first three spots overall — not just the number one pick — and the idea that a team can spend one more season being ‘good, but not great’ is more appealing than before.
It could be a benefit to Eichel, as well. While the NCAA doesn’t boast the long season and competitive number of games that the CHL does, it does have an advantage over the major juniors in the age and size of the competition. In the CHL, few players are over the age of 20 — in the NCAA, few are under it.
Whether he chooses to stay in college or not, though, GM’s can take this from the announcement — if there’s anything Jack Eichel is, it’s surprisingly patient.