Author: Jason Brough


Can Jack Eichel become the first American ‘generational’ hockey talent?


The word “generational” has been thrown around a lot this year in the hockey world.

Both Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel have had their names attached to the label.

As in, these are generational talents we’re talking about here.

As in, it’s no coincidence that tanking became a hot topic in 2014-15.

McDavid — like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Maurice Richard, and most of the other greatest hockey players of all time — is Canadian.

Eichel is American.

There has never been a generational hockey talent that was born and raised in the United States.

Oh, there have been some great American hockey players. Hall of Famers like Mike Modano, Chris Chelios, Joe Mullen, Brian Leetch and Pat LaFontaine. Blackhawks star Patrick Kane is on track for induction.

But none were, or are, head and shoulders above the rest. Case in point, an American-born, American-bred player has never won the Hart Trophy, an award Gretzky received nine times.

Can Eichel become the first?

The fact people are even asking such questions is proof of the hype, which is perhaps unfair to an 18-year-old. While nobody’s demanding that Eichel do for the NHL what Michael Jordan did for the NBA or Tiger Woods for golf, it’s certainly been said before that, for hockey to really thrive in the United States, there needs to be an American Gretzky.

By the way, “American Gretzky” is what Brian Lawton’s agent once predicted his client would become.

Lawton, the first U.S.-born player to be drafted first overall, did not become American Gretzky. Not even close.

When asked in April how he handles the weight of expectations, Eichel told PHT: “To be honest, I try to block out everyone else’s opinions.”

And while he admits that’s easier said than done in the age of social media, he knows it’s part of the deal for today’s star athletes.

“You never know what somebody’s opinion’s going to be, whether it’s good or bad, right or wrong,” he said. “At the end of the day, there’s so many people in the world whose opinions I do care for, but there’s more that I don’t care for. I’m worried what the people close to me think of me, and what my teammates think of me.”

Besides, he puts enough pressure on himself. He doesn’t need Twitter’s help.

“I think the one guy that needs to put less pressure on himself is probably myself,” he said. “I’m always pushing myself to get better. I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself, and I think sometimes it’s too much.”

Eichel conceded that may have been the case at this year’s World Juniors, where he had just one goal and three assists for an American squad that lost in the quarterfinals. In stark contrast, McDavid had three goals and eight assists for gold medal-winning Canada.

“It’s a pressure situation up there,” Eichel said of the tournament that was co-hosted by Toronto and Montreal. “There was a lot going on at that time, and I really wanted to help our team be successful. It was a good experience for me, going up there and dealing with the things that I dealt with. I definitely learned a lot from it.”

The reviews of his game were far better at the World Championships, where he helped the Americans to a surprising bronze medal. Eichel finished with two goals and five assists in 10 games, playing with and against top professionals.

Friday in Florida, Eichel will be selected second overall by the Buffalo Sabres, right after McDavid goes first to the Edmonton Oilers.

Maybe Eichel will go on to become the greatest American hockey player of all time.

Maybe he’ll be a bust.

But Friday is where his NHL story will officially start, with great expectations.

UFA of the Day: Drew Stafford

Anaheim Ducks v Winnipeg Jets - Game Three

Check PHT every day until June 30 for a new pending unrestricted free agent of the day. Today’s UFA of the Day is…

Drew Stafford

Recently, it was reported that the Jets and Stafford were working on a contract extension. No surprise there, after the 29-year-old was traded from Buffalo to Winnipeg and proceeded, according to Jets coach Paul Maurice, to make a “huge impact.”

Stafford finished with nine goals and 10 assists in 26 games for the Jets, an 82-game pace of 28 goals and 32 assists. Even in a limited sample, it reminded everyone that Stafford once scored 31 goals in 62 games for the Sabres.

Still, there are those who think the Jets should move on, perhaps in favor of top prospect Nikolaj Ehlers. Winnipeg also has to be mindful of its spending, considering Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd can become unrestricted free agents next summer.

Which takes us nicely into these tweets, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

Besides Stafford, the Jets’ other UFA forwards include Michael Frolik, Jiri Tlusty, Jim Slater and Lee Stempniak.

Click here for more UFAs.

Stoll charged with cocaine possession, but not MDMA possession

Pittsburgh Penguins v Los Angeles Kings

Kings forward Jarret Stoll faces up to four years in prison after being charged with felony drug possession of cocaine.

If convicted, it is very unlikely that Stoll will spend four years in jail. He may only get probation. That’s up to the discretion of the judge, according to the Orange County Register.

Stoll was arrested April 17 in Las Vegas after attempting to enter the pool area at the MGM Grand.

In addition to cocaine possession, Stoll was also arrested on MDMA possession. However, there is reportedly only mention of the cocaine possession in the complaint filed today by Clark County’s district attorney.

That may be good news for Stoll. From an article dated June 11:

One Las Vegas-based criminal drug attorney said the possession of cocaine, a class E felony, is less concerning than that of the MDMA, a class B felony and a non-probation offense. Under Nevada penal code, any amount of a schedule 1 substance over 4 grams triggers state drug-trafficking laws.

Stoll, 32, is to appear in court on July 1.

Coincidentally, that is the same day he is set to become an unrestricted free agent.