Buffalo Sabres’ star forward Jack Eichel was still five months from his NHL debut when he last competed in the IIHF Men’s World Championship.
A lot has changed since then.
Eichel recently finished his second season in the NHL, led the Sabres in scoring and now, at 20 years old, he’s about to compete in his second world championship, which begins Friday in Paris and Cologne, Germany.
“Obviously two years in the NHL and the world championships, I have a lot more experience and feel confident going into it,” said Eichel, who has 48 goals and 113 points in two NHL seasons. “I just have higher expectations.”
Those lofty expectations, Eichel said, start with a gold medal, which would be the third in program history and first since 1960. Eichel feels the pieces are in place for a special tournament.
“I think we have a good group if you look at our roster, and I think we should go over there and expect to win it,” Eichel said.
Eichel scored two goals and had seven points in 10 games during his first world championships in 2015, during which Team USA captured its seventh bronze medal.
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This might be Eichel’s second world championships, but he already has plenty of experience in international competition.
As a 15-year-old, Eichel represented the United States at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria. He also took part in several international tournaments as part of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, most notably helping Team USA capture gold at the 2014 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship. He also played in two IIHF World Junior Championships for Team USA.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate to be able to play in a good amount of these tournaments,” said Eichel, who is from North Chelmsford, Massachusetts. “It’s always a good time, and the world championship is unique because it’s a pretty long one.”
One of Eichel’s favorite perks of international play is the opportunity to play with — and against — players who are not typically teammates.
“It’s great to watch these guys all year, you see their games and you appreciate it,” Eichel said. “When you get over there and play with them on the ice every day you appreciate them a lot more. You’re also able to learn from them … their routine and what they do. It’s a good experience for me and I’m able to take a lot from it.”
Eichel, a Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner at Boston University, was only 18 when he competed with Team USA at the 2015 world championships. He was the first draft-eligible player to compete in the event for Team USA since Phil Housley more than 20 years ago.
“I think the good thing about the last world championship is that it was prior to my first year in the NHL and right after school,” said Eichel, who went to Buffalo with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. “I was able to learn a lot about myself playing against the world’s best, and I was able to figure out things about my game.
“It was a good test for me before heading back to prepare for my first season. Probably the best part about it personally was being able to medal. It was great for me, and we had a great group of guys I got to know and spend time with.”
Eichel said it was an easy to decision to participate in the upcoming 16-day tournament following the rigors of recently completing an NHL season in which he played 61 games.
He also wants an opportunity to win a gold medal.
“At the end of the day, I just wanted to go over there, play hockey, try to get better and I thought it was a good opportunity to do that,” he said. “I’d really like to go over there and try to win a gold medal.”
Dan Scifo is a sportswriter from the Pittsburgh area. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.