Jack Eichel’s skills will make him a regular competitor on the international stage. It’s his personality that can help him become a marquee player for the United States.
“He’s got good charisma,” said Jim Johansson, assistant executive director of USA Hockey. “He really enjoys the pureness of the game and exudes that to all the people that are around.”
Johansson got a close look at Eichel’s people skills last year. The U.S. world junior team held its training camp at Boston University, where Eichel was in the midst of a record-setting freshman year. He stopped to chat with everyone.
“I know he went to school here, but he knew everybody that worked in the arena,” Johansson recalled last week on the BU campus. “He knew the people in the cafeteria. He knew their names and knew about them.
“He’s completely comfortable in it, too. It’s not forced.”
Eichel has arrived at an exciting time for USA Hockey. As players and executives gathered last week to celebrate the past at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony, they looked toward the future as well.
Eichel, Detroit’s Dylan Larkin, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and likely 2016 No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews are part of the United States’ next generation, a group of players from 18 to 22 years old who are already making an impact on the hockey world.
“The growth of the game is in the numbers, but also the growth of the game is in the number of significant positions for American players in the game,” said Ron DeGregorio, co-chairman of the board for USA Hockey. “That is a good indication that the development of American hockey players is growing.”
Eichel has already represented the United States at five significant events. The Buffalo Sabres center played in the world and world junior championships this year, skated in the world juniors in 2014 and played in the under-18 world championships in 2013 and 2014. The 19-year-old was also part of the U.S. National Team Development Program for two seasons.
It’s just a start.
“Obviously, it’s such an honor to put the USA sweater on, so any time you can do it it’s privilege and you want to take advantage of it,” Eichel said. “It means the world to me. I really started to appreciate everything they do for us Americans, and I really started to take a lot more pride in being from the United States and being a USA Hockey player and wearing the red, white and blue when I went to the national team.”
Danton Cole saw Eichel’s dedication to hockey and his country as coach of the 2013-14 under-18 team. Cole foresees a long partnership.
“The sky’s the limit for Jack,” Cole said. “Obviously, his skill set and his strength and his size, that’s what you come with. But from we saw when we had him was just his compete level and his desire to get better and be teachable and coachable. That’s the extra thing that the really good players and great players have. Jack’s all those things.
“He wants to be a good hockey player and he’s got that drive, which is a special drive. We have a lot of talented guys come through, but the mindset of the guys that do really well are the ones that realize talent’s not enough. It’s the other stuff you do. Everybody’s got talent, but if you can bring the other stuff then you can really go places. He’s got that right mindset.”
Depending on the Sabres’ postseason status, Eichel’s next USA Hockey opportunity will be the world championships in May in Russia. The center is also a favorite to play on the North American team at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in September.
After that, it’s up to Eichel and his continued development.
“I don’t want to put any more pressure on him than what is already on him, but obviously he’s quite a talent,” former Sabres center Chris Drury said. “There’s a ton of guys maybe not quite as talented as him, but there’s a lot of guys in his age group that are going to do a lot of good things in the game for USA Hockey.”