Earlier today, I suggested that Connor McDavid was a lock to be chosen first overall. I'm not going to walk that statement back, but Jack Eichel is an absolutely incredible talent. In my view, he's the only player in the draft with a realistic chance at a better pro career than McDavid's, in part because they share many strengths. Like McDavid, Eichel possesses enormous offensive skills, good size (6'2'' and 196 lbs. at the combine) and the dedication to a complete game necessary to back up all that talent. In April, Boston University coach, David Quinn, commended the young center on his improving overall game, saying that "defensively and in one-on-one situations, he never gets beat." That's high praise for one of the youngest players in the league.
So why have McDavid ahead at all? For me, it's the fact that we've already seen so many players come through the CHL, and can thus be pretty sure that McDavid will be a superstar. With Eichel, there's less certainty; we just haven't seen very many superstars emerge from the NCAA. But I will say this: a look at Eichel's comparables suggests that this player has a very good chance.
First off, I didn't already have an adjusted points database for the NCAA handy, so I thought it might be worthwhile to go through the process together. I started by looking at anyone who was drafted between 1st and 7th overall and played his draft year in the NCAA. That rather limited criteria yielded ten matches, including Dany Heatley and Erik Rasmussen, whose first year of draft eligibility was a year later than most players because of the draft rules at the time.
Eichel already looks very good here, bested only by two players who made their mark in much higher-scoring eras and at a time when the NCAA was a less well-established path to the NHL. Adjusting this offense is trickier than it is for the CHL leagues since NCAA teams don't play all of their games in their own Conference and the quality of the(se) NCAA (Conferences) has likely improved over time. Still, some adjustment seems necessary. It seems fair to use the Conference scoring rate as our measuring stick for making an adjustment. Even if it's not perfect, we'll get a much better feel for just how impressive Eichel's performance is. Below, I've adjusted each player's offensive output to a league that generates 6.0 goals per game.
The only player close is Paul Kariya, and as you may recall, Paul Kariya was an awfully good player. Over Kariya's first four seasons (i.e. before Gary Suter cross-checked him in the face), he was the sixth best scorer in the league, registering a better points per game rate than anyone but Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Eric Lindros, Peter Forsberg, and Teemu Selanne.
But how good is Eichel's performance, really? What if we added the adjusted rates for players who were chosen with a top seven pick whose next season was played as a rookie in the NCAA:
Jack Eichel's still on top with no real challengers save Kariya. This is a special player, folks. This is a player who has a very good chance of becoming a superstar at the NHL level, a player that could probably have been the first overall pick in any year but this one since 2005.
Next up tomorrow morning: Ivan Provorov