McDavid, Eichel, Hanifin Are for Real

Of the top five draft picks in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, three are currently playing in the league. Top-pick Connor McDavid has played in three games for the Edmonton Oilers, and scored his first NHL goal Tuesday night. The overall No. 2 pick Jack Eichel has played in three games for the Buffalo Sabres and already has scored two goals. In three games for the Carolina Hurricanes, Noah Hanifin has an assist, breaking onto the point board last Friday against the Detroit Red Wings.

Arizona Coyotes third overall pick Dylan Strome and Toronto Maple Leafs fourth overall pick Mitch Marner are both playing in the juniors.

Hanifin was in good company Tuesday night as Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, last year’s first overall pick, was the only defenseman drafted in 2014 that played for his team last year. According to the team,

“Currently, Hanifin is the lone drafted defenseman currently playing in the NHL.”

Ekblad went on to win the Calder Trophy last year. Three games does not tell us anything about that award for this season, but barring anything unforeseen, Hanifin is very likely to be in the mix with McDavid and Eichel. McDavid broke the ice with a deflection:

Many have glossed McDavid the next “Great One” as evidenced by Yahoo! Sports’ title on their report of his first goal: “Connor McDavid scores first NHL goal, trails Gretzky by 893.” Really? I sure hope they are not going to keep up with the countdown.

Let’s see, if he gets 30 goals, he will only trail Gretzky by 864. And then next year…Please let’s don’t do that.

McDavid faces all kinds of pressure because of the hype that the hockey media has heaped on him and because he is playing in Canada. How he handles that pressure will be a huge factor in how he progresses in this season and beyond.

Jack Eichel has grabbed the spotlight early from McDavid and Hanifin. This goal Tuesday was superb:

Eichel or McDavid, really was in the end a coin-toss at the top of the draft pool. They are both extremely rare talents that have given the NHL a new boost in what could be incredible hockey for years to come. Buffalo has Eichel and currently has something neither the Oilers nor the Hurricanes have in October, a win. (Yes, I know it’s early.)

Hurricanes rookie defenseman Hanifin said in a pregame interview before Tuesday night’s game against the Florida Panthers that what he has learned so far playing in the NHL is to “know what to do with the puck before he gets it.” Even a quick look at the first-round draft pick lends itself to the thought that Hanifin knew what to do with the puck well before putting his skates on NHL ice.

The Hurricanes need good players on defense. But, coach Bill Peters is not handing out roster spots to guys that have not earned them. Hanifin has the raw talent and the desire to compete at this level and, even though it’s early, he’s proving that he belongs. Watching Hanifin move the puck and pass it with confidence is remarkable.

So of this year’s top five draft picks, three are playing in the NHL. Strome and Marner are certainly waiting in the wings for their turns. But McDavid, Eichel and Hanifin are on the ice and in the spotlight, with the glare and its accompanying pressure most certainly greatest on McDavid.

Yes, it is too early in the season to draw real, firm conclusions, but, as hockey fans, we are blessed to be able to watch these three emerge and grow, possibly into NHL legends.

So let’s see, if McDavid scores forty goals … never mind. I say let’s not worry about Gretzky or Crosby or anyone else. These three have huge upside potential, and all we have to do is simply enjoy. Pretty cool, huh?