Sometimes the stuff you hear in the hockey media boggles the mind. Once again, rumors are being propagated that Jack Eichel, the best American draft prospect in a generation, would leave Boston University after the world juniors to join the Quebec League's Saint John Sea Dogs. I have some problems with this.
My main problem is that I can't wrap my head around why it would happen. Eichel's Terriers are currently the No. 1 NCAA team in the nation, thanks largely in part to the incredible freshman season he is having. Eichel grew up watching college hockey in Boston and he has a chance to check off an entire bucket list of dreams all in one season with the Terriers before he inevitably goes to the NHL next year.
First, there's the Beanpot tournament in February. The four-team showdown involves the all-Boston bracket of Harvard, Northeastern, Boston University and Boston College. It's a huge deal in New England and Boston College has won the past five times. This is obviously a thorny issue for their hated archrival, Eichel's Terriers.
But this year Boston College is uncharacteristically struggling and Eichel could snatch that trophy back for his school.
After that, there's the Hockey East conference tournament, which B.U. hasn't won since 2009. And of course, there's the Frozen Four national championship, which the Terriers also last won in '09. If Eichel wins all – or even a couple – of these elite events and keeps up his current points pace, I don't see why he couldn't also win the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's best player. Paul Kariya is the only other player ever to win the accolade as a freshman.
Or, he could go play in the Quebec League for the Saint John Sea Dogs, a very good team and a well-run organization, albeit in a city that Eichel had not once visited the last time I spoke to him in the fall (and I can't imagine that has changed, since he's been in Boston ever since).
Playing college instead of major junior will not affect Eichel's draft stock in any way, since he is virtually locked in at No. 2 behind Connor McDavid. The margin between the two is microscopic and both players are such phenoms that one NHL scout told me he has never had a 1-2 punch of draft prospects like this before. Keep in mind that includes Stamkos-Doughty, Hall-Seguin and Tavares-Hedman.
The underpinnings of the Eichel-to-the-Q rumors sound to me like a byproduct of the recruiting war between the NCAA and CHL. But I like both circuits as development paths and recognize that both have pros and cons. Talent-wise, the CHL can boast Crosby, Stamkos and Tavares, while the NCAA can counter with Toews, Quick and Kessel. It's all good hockey.
Just to make sure these rumors were more dry ice than smoke, I reached out to a couple NHL scouts in the region, none of whom had a dog in the fight: Unilaterally, they said the talk was completely unfounded and that none of it was coming from Eichel's camp (and as noted by Willy Palov, Sea Dogs GM Darrell Young doesn't think the kid is coming either).
If this is true, I hate that Eichel will have to deal with these questions throughout the world juniors – because inevitably someone new is going to badger him about it every time he meets the press in Montreal and eventually, Toronto. Eichel can't even win, because if he denies it, the skeptics will just say "of course he won't admit it right now."
Frankly, the whole ordeal is beyond my mental grasp.