This is the game everybody has been waiting for: Canada vs. USA. McDavid vs. Eichel.
The top two prospects for the 2015 NHL draft — Canada’s Connor McDavid and USA’s Jack Eichel — will face off for the first, and perhaps only, time this season in Wednesday’s group-stage finale. The magnitude of this matchup cannot be understated, as it is both important and intriguing on so many levels.
What’s On The Line?
First place is up for grabs between the countries, while first overall pick implications are also in play. Not to mention bragging rights — at least heading into the medal round.
McDavid, who is considered a generational talent and was on pace for nearly 200 points in the OHL before breaking his hand in a fight on Nov. 11, might still be a bit rusty, having been sidelined until the beginning of this tournament. But he’s been getting better as the showcase progresses, highlighted by a three-point performance in a 4-0 victory over Germany.
Eichel, who is captaining the Americans and leading all NCAA scorers as a freshmen, has been a standout since the world juniors started and scored an impressive wraparound goal as the U.S. followed Canada in shutting out the Germans 6-0.
Eichel has manufactured more highlight material thus far, despite being overshadowed by McDavid with the event being staged in Canada with games in Toronto and Montreal.
Eichel only has 1 goal and 1 assist to show for his efforts through 3 games, while McDavid was held off the scoresheet in his other two outings but has the points lead between them thanks to an extra helper. The fancy stats would be more flattering for both, as they’ve generated plenty of chances and been effective at both ends of the ice.
Yet, everything leading up to this point is now, somewhat, out the window. Everybody, from pro scouts to casual fans, wants to see how they fare head to head.
Rising To The Occasion
The hype surrounding this game is huge — and rightfully so. The Canada-USA clash on New Year’s Eve has become an almost annual tradition and typically lives up to its lofty billing. It has certainly produced its share of classics over the past decade.
Who could forget this?
McDavid and Eichel will be hard-pressed to top those heroics, but they’ll be front and centre in the latest installment, both looking to play a starring role. And their chapter, however it plays out, promises to be must-see TV again.
With that said, should either of them struggle or fail to make an impact on Wednesday’s outcome, it won’t dramatically hurt their draft stock. Neither of them are plummeting to No. 3, or beyond, with a “bad” by-their-standards showing. However, if one of them significantly outshines the other, that might be meaningful in the battle to be No. 1.
Pressure, What Pressure?
They will both do their best to downplay that ‘game within the game’ in the build-up to Wednesday’s puck-drop (4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT). Neither will admit to feeling any added pressure, nor will they express heightened motivation to make a statement.
They will more likely stick to the party line, keep the emphasis on the teams rather than individuals, and probably just state their excitement while stressing the ‘fun’ factor. But rest assured, this is serious business for both and they will be very aware of each other’s presence throughout the contest. The key will be not to get caught up in the moment or try to do too much, be it setting the tone early on or matching a contribution from a retaliatory mindset.
What To Watch For?
For those who haven’t seen these guys play before, Eichel may appear more noticeable shift in and shift out because he’s more of a power forward and a driving force. McDavid is a playmaker first and foremost, so he can be invisible until the puck ends up on his stick, but that tends to happen a lot, which makes him a constant threat offensively.
Contrasting styles aside, they are both catalysts for their respective teams and have very bright futures in the sport.
What The Scouts Say?
McDavid is considered by most to be the best prospect since Sidney Crosby, with some suggesting he’ll be even better and sooner than later. Eichel isn’t far off that elite level, with one scout saying: “Think more Crosby-versus-Ovie than Taylor-versus-Tyler” in regards to their draft stature. Crosby went first overall in 2005 but would have also gone ahead of Alex Ovechkin, the top pick in 2004, had he been eligible that year. Taylor Hall edged out Tyler Seguin for No. 1 in 2010.
“Think more Crosby-versus-Ovie than Taylor-versus-Tyler” — scout on McDavid-versus-Eichel.
Another scout went as far as to say that, although he has Eichel ranked second, he’d take him first in every draft since 2008 when Tampa Bay took Steven Stamkos. That implies that Eichel is a better prospect than the past five No. 1 picks in John Tavares, Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Nathan MacKinnon.
Yes, these two are THAT good, so you won’t want to miss Wednesday’s game. Clear your schedule, sit back and enjoy Canada-USA . . . or rather McDavid-Eichel.
Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.