BUFFALO, N.Y. — If Buffalo Sabres forward and former Boston University standout Jack Eichel happens to attend Friday’s NHL Draft in his new hometown, he might feel very much at home.
One year after being drafted second overall, Eichel has the opportunity to watch as many as four current and future Boston University players become first-round NHL Draft choices.
It’s almost an embarrassment of riches for BU coach David Quinn. A year after four Terriers players were selected in the top 50, BU stands to have current defenseman Charlie McAvoy along with incoming freshmen Kieffer Bellows, Clayton Keller and Dante Fabbro all selected in the top 20 of Friday’s opening round.
The quartet highlights what should be one of the best drafts for U.S. college players in recent years.
Although it is unlikely to have any college players taken near Eichel’s mark of second last year — or in the top five for that matter — final rankings from NHL Central Scouting and the independent group at the International Scouting Service indicate as many as nine current or incoming college players could be first-round picks.
For Quinn, the draft provides some solid marketing and branding for his BU program as he enters his fourth year behind the Terriers bench. But it also places some challenges on his staff.
Any of this year’s quartet or high-end picks from last season like Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, who had a stellar year for BU, could be signing professional contracts within a year or sooner if the NHL club wants to secure their draft capital.
“When you do get the high-end draft picks, [you worry about] how long are they staying,” said Quinn. “It’s a juggling act from a recruiting aspect. It does make it difficult. But I’d much rather have that problem than not.”
College hockey is hamstrung by the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, which allows college players who are drafted to become free agents the summer after graduation, a route currently being sought by reigning Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey.
“The CBA really hurts us,” Quinn said. “These [NHL] teams do not want their players to get to their senior year because they run the risk of allowing them to get to free agency.
“Teams probably err on the side of taking a guy a little earlier than they should. I can’t blame them. When you have an investment in a kid with a high draft pick, you don’t want to lose them. Unfortunately, we suffer for that.”
What the Terriers won’t suffer from, however, is benefiting from the time this year’s draft class spends in a BU uniform. It is led by McAvoy, who was the highest rated of the four by Central Scouting but some feel may have the least upside.
The youngest player in college hockey a year ago, McAvoy proved himself worthy of being called a physical defenseman, something Quinn said will benefit him in the draft.
“One of the things that really impressed me about him was, being as young as he is, how physical he was,” said Quinn. “The physical aspect of college hockey didn’t overwhelm him.
“When you’re 17 years old and playing against guys who are 22, 23 years old, that can be pretty overwhelming. To me, that gives you an idea what type of a player he is.”
Of the incoming BU players, Bellows has the most impressive pedigree. The son of 18-year NHL veteran Brian Bellows, Kieffer Bellows is thought of as one of the better snipers available in this draft.
“I think he’s going to be the finisher and the sniper,” said David Gregory from NHL Central Scouting. “He can play on the wing and he’s very adept at getting open for shooting lanes. He can distribute, but there are not many people that can shoot it like him and finish like him.”
Boston University is hardly the only team whose players have high draft potential. In the final Central Scouting rankings of North American forwards, Wisconsin center Luke Kunin ranked 11th, jumping five spots from the midterm ranking released in January.
Some believe that Tyson Jost, who played last year in Penticton of the BCHL and is scheduled to attend North Dakota in the fall, could have the most professional potential. A teammate of BU freshman-to-be Fabbro, Jost finished the year ranked 16th by Central Scouting.
Minnesota high schooler Riley Tufte, who will be a true freshman for Scott Sandelin at Minnesota-Duluth, was on Central Scouting’s radar all year, ranking 17th in both the midterm and final charts.
Connecticut’s Tage Thompson, who a season ago potted 13 power-play goals for the Huskies, is ranked 20th, no doubt because of his blistering one-time shot that was so effective in his rookie season.
And Dennis Cholowski, the biggest mover among the top college talent, jumped from 48th in Central Scouting’s midterm rankings to 23rd at season’s end. He will head to St. Cloud State in the fall.
Auston Matthews is expected to be just the sixth American selected first overall in the NHL Draft. Matthews went to neither college nor major junior last season, instead opting to play professionally in Switzerland.
The NHL Draft will kick off Friday at 7 p.m. EDT (NBC Sports), with the entire first round completed that evening. It resumes Saturday at 10 a.m. EDT (NHL Network), when rounds two through seven will be selected.