The Friesen Files: While McDavid sits on the sidelines, Eichel earns high praise

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All eyes are on Jack Eichel with Connor McDavid out with a hand injury. (Boston University)
All eyes are on Jack Eichel with Connor McDavid out with a hand injury. (Boston University)

If Jack Eichel is going to get an opportunity to steal some of the 2015 draft spotlight away from Connor McDavid, it’s right now. The Boston University freshman is as healthy as can be while the Erie Otters superstar is sidelined with a hand injury that he suffered in a fight.

Having a better points-per-game ratio than some former NCAA greats has helped Eichel garner more attention. The 6-foot-2, 194-pounder’s eights goals and 21 points in 13 games (1.61 per game) puts him at a pace to outscore the freshman years of Minnesota Wild sniper Zach Parise (1.56), former No. 2 overall pick Dany Heatley (1.47) and NHL veteran Brian Gionta (1.46). Only Paul Kariya’s incredible 1992-93 freshman season with the University of Maine where he averaged 2.56 points-per game tops Eichel’s current pace.

Among the enticing aspects of his game, scouts have been most impressed with how the 18-year-old centre brings his A-game night in and night out against opponents who are mostly much older than him. The North Chelmsfort, MA., native got on the board in his first 11 college contests before being held pointless for the first time this past weekend in games against Harvard and Dartmouth.

“Eichel’s consistency level with regards to getting the puck in the net and generating offense shows his total package improvements, especially now that he is doing it at the NCAA level,” says International Scouting Services scout Matt Grainda. “He was great at this last year on the USA NTDP team and it is impressive that he is doing it against older competition. His power and strength are great already and they will continue to improve while he trains at Boston University.”

Even though Eichel has done practically everything within his power to try to hurdle McDavid, it seems like it’s simply not going to happen. McDavid, who has 16 goals and 51 points in 18 games, is just too good. Just like Sidney Crosby, he’s the type of player that comes around once a decade. Whereas Eichel it not quite as rare of a talent even though his skill is off the charts.

That begs the question: would Eichel have been the clear-cut No. 1 prospect in previous drafts? Well, some scouts believe he would have without a doubt been ranked ahead of former Barrie Colts blueliner Aaron Ekblad in the 2014 draft class.

“I don't think for a second that Ekblad would have went ahead of Eichel,” says Mckeen’s Hockey scout Sean Lafortune. “Eichel is a much more offensively dynamic player, one whose speed, reach and wide stick-handling range allow him to dominate his competition. Had Eichel been born six weeks earlier, he'd be in the NHL right now.”

Nonetheless, when taking into account the 2014 draft class wasn’t considered a very strong draft year, it doesn’t put Eichel’s talent level in a much better perspective than is already known. But 2013, on the other hand, is a different story. Colorado Avalanche prized pick Nathan MacKinnon showed in his rookie season last year that he has the potential be one of the better No. 1 overall picks in the last decade. Would Eichel have went ahead of the former Halifax Moosehead? Again, some scouts believe so with certainty.

“While I completely appreciate what MacKinnon did in his draft year, looking at things in a vacuum there is no doubt in my mind that Eichel was the more impressive draft prospect at the same age,” says Lafortune. “They both offer similar attributes from a speed and offensive tools perspective, but what Eichel has been able to do against older NCAA prospects has been outstanding.”

Five to watch

Mitchell Marner, forward, London Knights (OHL) – Marner has elicited comparisons to former Knight and current Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, especially after his latest scoring tare. He netted three hat tricks in November while accumulating 18 goals and 32 points in 12 games. Like Kane when he was 18, the one knock on Marner is his smaller 5-foot-11, 164-pound stature, but his incredible skill has scouts brushing off concerns about his frame. The Thornhill, Ont., native, who has 22 goals and 48 points in 26 contests, has the ability to make a play out of nothing and escape pressure without being touched.

Colin White, forward, USA U18 (NTDP) – The 6-foot, 183-pound White is in the mix to be selected with a top-10 draft choice in June. He’s high on scouts’ radars because he plays a solid all-around game and possesses top-notch speed and hockey sense. Moreover, he works hard away from the puck and is a solid back-checker. The Hanover, MA., native has put it all on display with the USA U18 Team this year while potting 10 goals and 20 points in 19 games. He’s set to join Noah Hannifin at Boston College next season.

Yevgeni Svechnikov, wing, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL) – The Russian forward has gotten off to a great start to his CHL career with the Eagles by scoring 10 goals and 30 points throughout 23 matches. The combination of his silky soft hands, top-notch shot and enticing 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame has scouts pegging him as a future first-round pick. The 18-year-old suited up for his country in the CHL Super Series, so he’s in the running to represent Russia at the world junior championship.

Jansen Harkins, centre, Prince George Cougars (WHL) – The North Vancouver, B.C., native is the total package. He has a big frame at 6-foot-1, 180-pounds, possesses elite-level hockey sense and offensive upside while being well beyond his years in regards to maturity. Moreover, he has notably elevated his offensive production this year with seven goals and 29 points in 27 contests following netting 34 points in 67 games last year. All of the above should ensure that he’ll be selected with a first-round pick or at the very least a high second-round pick.

Ryan Gropp, wing, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) – The 6-foot-2, 183-pounder came into the Dub with a lot of hype around him last year when he chose to give up his NCAA scholarship (UND) to join the Thunderbirds. He has lived up to those expectations as he’s proven to be a quality first-line winger with excellent speed and a strong wrist shot. In addition, the Kamloops, B.C., native, who is projected as a second-round pick, leads Seattle in points with 12 goals and 22 points in 27 matches.

Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen