Let me make one thing clear right out of the chute: I’m not saying Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are going to be as good as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. They could be, but at this point, before they’ve skated a meaningful shift in the NHL, that would be putting way too much pressure on a pair of young talents with tremendous upside.
What I am saying, however, is that the first- and second-overall picks from the 2015 NHL Entry Draft are going to be compared and contrasted against one another for the duration of their playing careers the same way “The Great One” and “Mario the Magnificent” were during their time in the spotlight.
At the height of their dominance, the “Who would you rather have? Which one is better” discussions around Gretzky and Lemieux were non-stop in hockey circles. The former entered the league a little earlier and experienced championship success quickly, while the latter burst on the scene with a different set of skills, but a similar ability to dominate the game and it would take a little longer for him to lift hockey’s Holy Grail.
For me, Gretzky was always the pick – Lemiuex was the greater physical presence with the more tangible abilities and obvious weapons, but Gretzky had such an incredible feel and touch that he made it look like he was playing NHL 16 on easy with how prolific he was as piling up the points.
As Lemieux continued to ascend and amaze while Gretzky started to slow down ever so slightly, the comparisons continued, the debate raged on and more and more people started leaning in the other direction.
Truth be told, there is probably no right answer; you team would have been in tremendous shape with either of them at the helm.
A couple decades later, we’re on the verge of a similar debate, this time between two players drafted one after the other – the transcendent talent everyone is talking about, McDavid, and the otherworldly silver medalist who would have been the gold standard in just about any other year in the last five, Eichel.
Canadians are conditioned to favour McDavid – he’s one of our own and the latest in a long line of young phenoms we’ve watched blossom right before our eyes. He’s carrying the same torch that was passed down from Gretzky to Lindros to Crosby and now it’s his turn to be the most dominant force in the league and the one most people in this country will automatically declare the better player right this minute.
He might be, but man oh man is Jack Eichel a helluva hockey player.
Because he was tucked away in the US college system, those of us north of the border didn’t see him or his highlights nearly as much as we watch McDavid dance through helpless defenders and bury one top shelf on an overmatched netminder, but rest assured, he had some of those “dangle through everyone and bulge the twine” moments too and the talent gap between the two isn’t as wide as you may think.
Starting this season and continuing over the next decade or more, these two are going to be lined up side-by-side and measured against one another at every marker – better rookie year statistically, better team success, more All-Star appearances and on and on.
Fans will take up sides, hopefully not just on nationalistic lines, and argue about these two young potential superstars for years to come, just as they did with two of the greatest to every lace’em up a couple decades earlier.