If last night's CCM/USA All-American Prospects Game is any indication, the future of American hockey is strong indeed. What some thought might be the "Jack Eichel and Friends" game turned out to be a showcase for a number of other American prospects and a proof that the hype for the USA's 2015 draft class is well-deserved.
Team Grier defeated Team Olczyk 6-3 in the end, and Jack Eichel earned the player of the game award with his goal, assist, and hype train in front of over 7,000 fans in Buffalo.
With the Sabres in line for a top pick in next year's draft, all eyes were on Eichel, and one of the things that jumped out immediately to anyone watching the game was just how talented both Eichel and defenseman Noah Hanifin really are. In a game of the best prospects the USA has to offer, these two stood head and shoulders above their peers.
We've known about Eichel for some time now, and looked as good as advertised tonight, but defenseman Noah Hanifin solidified his high drat status with a very smart, controlled game. Both players displayed feet and hands that were NHL-caliber, and they both seemed to know exactly when to take a risk or push the tempo of the game to their team's advantage. When you hear that someone has the ability to "control the pace of the game", this is exactly what they mean. Eichel's goal was a thing of beauty, and both he and Hanifin created a number of other chances for their teams with creative passes, slick hands, and timely drives to the net.
They were fun to watch, but a number of other players stood out as well. The diminutive Jeremy Bracco scored twice and looked like a young Tyler Ennis on the ice with his lightning-quick feet and hands. Alec Baer (also on the smaller side) kept coming up as someone who was always around the puck, making things happen, while on the opposite end of the size spectrum, Jordan Greenway and Brandon Carlo (both 6'5'') each finished with two points among a number of chances.
The game started a bit slowly thanks in part to the excellent goalie play of Luke Opilka and Michael Lackey, who each pitched first period shutouts thanks to excellent positioning and a few nice glove/skate saves on breakaway chances. The floodgates opened in the second period, however, and we ended up with a fun, back-and-forth game that allowed many prospects to shine and gave the crowd of over 7,000 some scoring to cheer.
The AAPG has blossomed in its third year into a fun showcase for America's best. In a year where the USA has one of its strongest draft classes ever, last night's game was must-see for draftniks, and a great look at some talented players who might be back in Buffalo next year wearing blue and gold.
Check out the highlights below, and leave us your thoughts on the game in the comment section.