If you didn't know, the 2015 NHL Entry Draft evaluation season officially opened last week when USA Hockey and Hockey Canada held their summer evaluation camps in preparation for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. This year, both camps had added interest from scouts, general managers and anyone else looking to get a look at the two players that could be the first two who hear their names at next June's Draft.
Connor McDavid, the Canadian phenom dubbed by many as the next big thing, was participating in Canada's camp in Montreal, while Jack Eichel, the only player considered a worthy challenger to McDavid for the No. 1 overall pick, was hard at work at Team USA's camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Both arenas were reportedly crawling with scouts and team executives, who also likely were taking in August hockey because a number of their already drafted prospects were in attendance.
At these camps, the players are put through a series of practices and some highly-competitive games. Both USA Hockey and Hockey Canada invited international opponents to come play. At U.S. camp, teams from Sweden and Finland dropped in, also featuring many drafted prospects. Over in Canada, rival Russia came over. The Czech Republic played games in each camp.
Even though these games don't count, they do offer some decent evaluation points given the competitiveness and quality of opponents they offer. Needless to say, the race for No. 1 between McDavid and Eichel is absolutely on.
McDavid played in two games in Canada's camp and posted two points, but it was his goal in Friday's game against the Czech Republic that absolutely wowed the crowd.
In a burst of speed, McDavid picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone. He buzzed through the two defenders and charged hard at the net. McDavid then put on the brakes, provided a quick deke that sent the goalie sprawling and tucked the puck home.
Ottawa Senators prospect Curtis Lazar ended up stealing the show in camp, however, as he led all Canadians with five points in two games including four goals.
Over in Lake Placid, Eichel was putting on a show of his own. After participating in three games before the first round of cuts were made, Eichel turned it on for his last two games against the international opponents.
On Wednesday, he put up three assists as the U.S. blew past Sweden by a 7-1 scoreline. Two days later, he really turned it up with a five-point game in USA's 9-1 win over Finland. The 17-year-old forward collected four assists and scored a goal after he waited out a sliding Finnish defenseman and wired the puck inside the right post.
You can see his spinning backhand assist 10 seconds into this video, while the goal comes at the 1:15 mark.
Eichel finished tied with Columbus Blue Jackets first-round pick Sonny Milano for the camp lead with nine points in five games including eight assists. Minnesota Wild first-rounder Alex Tuch led the camp with six goals (almost all of which Eichel assisted on).
These games obviously don't count for much, but it's still interesting to see how the top two prospects for the NHL Entry Draft are getting revved up for the season.
Both participated in the World Junior Championship last year and are locks to make it again in 2015 when Toronto and Montreal plays host to the popular tournament for players under 20.
McDavid is headed back to play for the Erie Otters in the OHL where he posted 99 points in 56 games as a 16-year-old. He's still the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick as his production and skill level are obviously at an extremely high level.
Eichel, meanwhile, is slated to attend Boston University next year where he will take on older competition in Division 1 college hockey. He posted 87 points last year as a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program's Under-18 team, where he played a schedule against junior, international and college competition.
It's going to be exciting to watch two prospects from opposite sides of the border go back and forth over the next year, but draft fans may want to specifically circle December 31 on their calendar as the two are likely to meet when Team USA takes on Canada at the World Juniors on New Year's Eve. The rivalry of the two countries already made it appointment television, but the budding rivalry between draft prospects makes it can't miss.