This season, there is one reason that Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and dozens of NHL scouts come to Agganis Arena. And he’s a freshman.
Jack Eichel (CGS’16), who came to BU as the number-one player in his recruiting class, according to College Hockey News, is now perhaps the best player in college hockey, mainly because of what head coach David Quinn describes as his God-given ability and competitiveness.
“When you add those two things up at our level, you have a special player,” says Quinn (CAS’89). “In one-on-one situations, he’s as competitive as anyone I’ve ever been around, and you add to that his size, skating ability, vision, and shot, and you have a guy who can step into college hockey and have the start he’s had.”
Often compared to NHL stars and Hockey Hall of Famers Mike Modano and Mario Lemieux, the 6-foot, 2-inch, 194-pound forward led the Terriers to a number-one spot in the nation earlier in the season in the USA Today/USA Hockey and USCHO.com rankings. The last time the Terriers topped both polls was in November 2010.
While he was too young (just 17) for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, he will be eligible this June and is expected to be neck and neck for the first-place spot, overall, with the Ontario Hockey League’s Connor McDavid. The competition has been the subject of feature stories in Sports Illustrated and the New York Times, and came to a pinnacle in December as the two led their respective countries in the World Junior Championships. Team USA lost to Russia in the quarterfinals; Canada then went on to beat Russia in the finals to win the competition.
Dan Marr, NHL director of central scouting, says the rivalry between the two stars will be closely watched until the draft: “They are two remarkable young hockey players who make it fun to go to games,” Marr says. “They are a real treat to watch and are both difference-makers. What is truly exciting is that the best is yet to come for both these talented young players.”
Eichel skates gracefully around his plans for the future. “I have a lot of things to work on and get better at,” he says. “I’m not going to put a timetable on how long I’ll be in college. Obviously it’s a goal of mine to play in the NHL, but I’ll make the jump when the time is right.”
The Terrier freshman picked up a plastic hockey stick at the age of three and learned the game with help from his dad on a frozen pond near their home in Chelmsford, Mass. He started playing for the Junior Bruins (an elite hockey program) at 13, and moved to Michigan for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, where stars like Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel had developed their skills before joining the NHL. Eichel skated for Team USA at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Austria and helped Team USA capture the gold medal at the U18 World Championship in 2014.
Before he turned 15, he was offered scholarships by BU and Boston College. And while he acknowledges having once been an Eagles fan, he says his choice of school came down to the recruiting process, and BU’s was led by retired men’s ice hockey coach Jack Parker (SMG’68, Hon.’97), who produced several future NHL stars and Olympians during his 40-year career at the University.
“It was tough for me to decide between the two,” says Eichel. “But BU is just a better fit for me. I liked everything about this place, and I could see myself more as a Terrier than an Eagle. Ever since I made that decision, I’ve never doubted myself.”
With which end of Comm Ave determined, Eichel was eager to return to Boston from the Midwest. And with tutoring, summer school classes, and much encouragement from his mother, a nurse at Boston Medical Center, Eichel finished high school in three years. Because he spent the last three years away from home, his family has been making up for lost together time by being in the stands for every game they can.
They looked on in November as the Terriers faced Maine, coming from behind to tie the game. Just two minutes into overtime, the Eichels saw their son scoop up the puck behind the BU net, skate up the left side, weave around a Black Bear defenseman, and instead of gliding past a second defender, use him as a screen and snap a shot from the left circle over the goaltender’s left shoulder to end the game with a 3-2 Terrier victory.
“Eichel plays with authority,” says Marr. “He always rises to the occasion. He’s an amazing game-breaker and scores the timely goals, and has an exceptional ability to pull away with the puck, and has the smarts and skills to deliver and finish a scoring chance.”
Eichel says his approach to the game will remain the same next year, no matter what happens. “I always try to play really hard,” he says. “There have been things in my career that haven’t gone as well as I would like, but I try to use those things to motivate me to work even harder.”