It’s a slam-dunk that projected No. 1 overall pick Connor McDavid skates in the NHL next season.
The same cannot be said however, for projected second overall pick Jack Eichel, nor top-ranked defenceman Noah Hanifin.
Neither Eichel nor Hanifin — the second- and third-ranked North American skaters respectively according to Central Scouting’s final list — would confirm their intention to play professionally for the 2015-16 season when asked shortly after Saturday’s NHL draft lottery in Toronto.
Both are 18-year-old Massachusetts kids enjoying their time with Boston NCAA programs. Both are comfortable where they are, but both are elite talents believed capable enough to make the leap to the pro ranks should they wish.
Both say they’ll wait to see how the NHL Draft, with all of its moving parts, shakes out on June 26.
“Obviously it’s my dream to play in the NHL, but I don’t think there’s a rush to go anywhere,” Eichel said Saturday while addressing Toronto reporters via phone. “It’s tough to be thinking about that when you’re playing.”
Since Eichel became just the second freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award while leading Boston University to the national championship game, he said he’s taken “a week or so” to wind down after his 71-point, 40-game season.
He’ll join Team USA in the Czech Republic for the world championships in May.
Eichel said he’ll decide whether to return to school for his sophomore year following the draft “craziness,” and after discussing it with his family and people close to him.
“I’m really excited for the future, whatever that may be,” he said. “It would be really nice to play [in Buffalo]. There’s a lot of tradition there, and it’s obviously a great hockey city.”
Eichel has also pointed out the upside of staying in school — a school that has already named him one of its alternate captains for 2015-16.
“It would be another great year of development, college hockey and life with coach [David] Quinn,” Eichel told the Boston Herald on April 12.
“There are positives to it any way you look at it. At the end of the day, when a decision has to be made, I will make it with my family and with my heart. I don’t want to be somewhere that I don’t want to be.”
There’s the rub. Does Eichel want to spend 2015-16 with a Sabres squad trying to climb out of the NHL basement? One searching for a head coach? One whose general manager made his disappointment in not landing the No. 1 pick Saturday (i.e., McDavid) clear?
“Anytime you can get one versus two in any walk of life, you’re going to want No. 1., but we came up here with an expectation we’d probably be picking No. 2, and we’re going to deal with it,” said Sabres GM Tim Murray. “[Eichel is] as ready as 99 per cent of the 18-year-old kids that have jumped into the National Hockey League.”
Quinn has stated that he’d like Eichel to play at BU for one more year, minimum.
“I wouldn’t tell him he had to leave [school],” Murray added. “I would give him the pros and cons of going back in my opinion. Unless there’s a personal reason, a family reason, guys of his calibre… hockey-wise, there’s probably not a great reason to stay in school.”
Murray said the expectation would be for Buffalo to leap back in the playoff picture and sees Eichel as the type of player that could lure free agents, but the forecast in Buffalo won’t be clear until July 2 or 3, after free agent frenzy.
Hanifin, too, says he is taking a wait-and-see approach.
The second-youngest player ever to play for Boston College has been fast-tracking his whole career, and he’s on pace — by most mock drafts– to be scooped by Arizona at No. 3 or Toronto at No. 4.
He has the size (six-foot-three, 205 pounds) to compete in the NHL next fall, but he says much has to be determined before he commits. (Last month, he told the Boston Globe the plan was to play a second season in the NCAA.)
“I haven’t made any assumption about turning pro yet. I’m very comfortable with where I am at BC. They’ve treated me very well this year, and they’ve played me a lot of minutes, night in and night out,” Hanifin said Saturday. “I’ll have to sit down and talk with whatever team.”
And then Hanifin understates the tantalizing obvious.
“It’s going to be a pretty interesting draft day.”