PRAGUE – Jack Eichel may be coming home from the Czech Republic with a bronze medal, but what he’s taking away from the 2015 IIHF World Championships is far more valuable than any precious metals. If there were any doubts about whether he’s NHL ready, they are not only erased but completely obliterated.
Eichel and his teammates put a stamp on the tournament by defeating the Czech Republic by a score of 3-0, to finish in third place.
Coming into the tournament, American players were criticized for their apathy towards the world championships, and hockey pundits turned their nose up at the players that were on the roster.
The Americans emerged victorious against the Czechs by returning to what got them to the medal round. They made themselves tough to play against by staying strong on the puck and winning crucial battles down low.
Eichel provided a textbook example of that during the play that gave the U.S. its second goal of the game.
After being tossed from the face-off circle, Eichel used his strength to keep puck possession behind the net and then skated to create some space before whipping the puck to the front of the net and onto the stick of Trevor Lewis.
On this single play, we see Eichel’s power, skating and hands. Lewis explains the play, “I just went to the net and knew Jack would see me. He’s got great vision. He made an awesome pass and I just took it in.”
Hellebuyck Team USA’s MVP
When discussing Team USA’s successes, we’d be remiss not to talk about the play of Winnipeg Jets prospect Connor Hellebuyck.
“Connor was our best player again. When we had breakdowns, he was there to stop pucks for us,” said Lewis. “He controls the puck so well. He’s a calming presence for us back there I can’t say enough about him. I thought he was great.”
He was strong between the pipes yet again when USA suffered defensive lapses and extensive time on the penalty kill in the second period when the Czechs outshot the Americans 12-4.
And Again in the third, the Czechs controlled play, outshooting the Americans 16-1. However, Hellebuyck couldn’t be beaten. He stopped all 39 shots on his way to the shut out.
Eichel Proves His Skill
Although Connor McDavid will go number one, Eichel will be able to boast about playing with and against NHL talent, while making an impression. Eichel’s teammates, coaches and opponents rave about the 18-year-old forward.
“The composure he has with the puck is pretty awesome to see,” said Eichel’s linemate Lewis. “You just have to get pucks to him and he’s going to find you.”
Eichel was given a supreme opportunity to not only play on this USA roster, but was put in key situations by USA head coach Todd Richards, including defensive zone faceoffs and time on the first power play unit.
“It’s his speed, his reach, his vision and he is also very strong on the puck,” said Richards. “When he gets the puck on his stick, he becomes an incredibly dangerous player.”
Being in the presence of NHL teammates, Eichel soaked up as much as he could. “It was really nice to play with [NHL players]; I learned a lot from them,” said Eichel.
Eichel particularly really seemed to click with his linemates Lewis and Brock Nelson. “They really made the game easy for me in terms of how hard they worked. I just tried to compete each shift and move the puck.”
This edition of the USA senior team competed hard every shift and proved a lot of naysayers wrong along the way. They turned in a very gratifying performance.
Eichel sums it up, “to end the tournament with a win and bring some hardware back to the States is really good for our team.” For the wunderkind, that hardware is simply window dressing compared to the invaluable experience he earned at the 2015 Worlds.
As an American based in Amsterdam, Joe provides a unique hockey insight, bringing a global perspective to the game. Joe has several years of experience covering the game on both a domestic and international level, including being credentialed for multiple World and World Junior Championships.