Do it for McEichel.
In 2006, the NHL had an incredible opportunity. For the first time since the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, the NHL’s best players would have the chance to compete at the Winter Olympics again. This time, however, it wasn’t in a prime spot. It was in Turin, Italy, not exactly known to be a hockey hotspot.
Earlier in the NHL season, two living hockey legends, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, began their illustrious NHL careers. For years, both players had been heralded as the next big thing, with the hype between the two teenagers higher than almost any other player in the world.
For people outside of North America, the thought of seeing these two superstars battling it out at the 2006 Winter Olympics seemed almost surreal. Two of the youngest bright stars, playing together with the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Sakic and more. This wasn’t the World Juniors, this was the biggest international stage in the world.
Unfortunately, fans wouldn’t get their wish. Ovechkin would go on to play for Russia, scoring an impressive five goals en route to being named to the tournament All-Star team in just his first try. Crosby, on the other hand, did not participate. In what can only be considered as one of Canada’s most disappointing performances in recent men’s team history, Canada failed to even contend for a medal after some poor results along the way. With players such as Todd Bertuzzi and Kris Draper making the trip to Italy instead, you can imagine that scoring wasn’t their strong suit.
So that’s it. The NHL missed a really good chance to showcase two of the best players the league will ever have to a market that have had very few big league players in the history of the nation. It wasn’t the NHL’s fault, of course. Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player to ever take a shot on net, was more interested in a team with character and experience over speed and skill. Well, hey, the team struggled big time, didn’t they?
Let’s not do that with the next generation, OK?
Meet Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. If you don’t know who they are, you’re likely not a hockey fan. Actually, even most non-hockey fans living in North America know a thing or two about both of them. They’re superstars of a new era, a world where physicality is slowly dying and contracts are quickly rising. We’re devoid of the time where we’d see 5+ players getting 110+ point seasons in the NHL. The game is evolving, and with that, it’s time to bring in the next breed of hockey sensations.
McDavid and Eichel, also known as McEichel, are two of the best at what they do. They score, they’re fast, they can basically do anything they want on the ice and be very effective. In fact, Eichel went to the World Championships and really took control of the face-off dot against men, some of them almost twice his age. McDavid could have played five minutes a game and still put up incredible scoring numbers, scoring at free will every time he even thought about touching the puck.
Unlike Crosby and Ovechkin, McEichel will have about three years to hone their craft before getting a chance to participate at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. At this point, that’s more than enough time for them to both compete for the league scoring title beforehand. It’s unlikely that they’ll be far off from becoming international stars at that point, so for the sake of projection, they’ll be good enough to participate in PyeongChang.
Now, we know the NHL isn’t very interested in heading to Korea in three years, and for good reason. The league has to shut down for two weeks to allow its stars to travel, the teams don’t make any money and the risk of injury is always prevalent. Oh, and the tournament is halfway across the freakin’ world.
South Korea is not a top hockey nation. In fact, they just returned to Division IA, the second highest division of the World Championships, following heartbreak in the same group back in 2014. The country has never earned a birth in the top division of the World’s, and yet the International Ice Hockey Federation has given them an automatic birth into the 2018 Olympics due to their host status.
South Korea wont be bringing in fans and revenue based off of their own players. As it stands, only three players on the 2015 World Championship squad, Mike Testwuide, Michael Swift and Brock Radunske had a chance at the NHL, but even then, none of them ever made it out of the minors. As well, none of those three are actually from the country, and instead transferred over after meeting the IIHF’s eligibility requirements.
Do those sound like the names that people will wake up at 3am EST in the morning to watch skate around for a few hours? No, absolutely not. But Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are exactly the two guys the hockey world need. Talk to any hockey fan over the past ten years and you’ll find that the chance to see Crosby play live is something none of them will want to pass up. With all the publicity that McEichel got around the sport over the past few years, you can only imagine that the same thing would happen in 2018.
The ratings won’t be great likely due to the time zone. Yes, the big names will still get a chance to steal the spotlight, as the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin will be automatic large draws for the rest of their lives. But, like already mentioned, the timing and the actual location of the tournament will hurt the viewership, no question about it. You didn’t see the majority of NHL supporters in North America complaining about prime time viewing like we became accustomed too in Canada and the States. Bringing in two new stars that a good portion of the world will never have had the chance to see on national TV, or in person, of course, would surely signal a big boost in ratings.
We’re going to see these two battle it out with their respective NHL organizations for many years. In fact, with it pretty much confirmed notion that McDavid will be an Oiler and Eichel will be a Sabre in June, we could see the two battling for many Stanley Cups in a few years time. But there is something special about putting on a jersey to represent your country. There is something special about Wayne Gretzky bringing home the Canada Cup gold. There is something special about Dominik Hasek stealing the national spotlight in Nagano. There is something special about a group of college hockey students from the States defeating the overpowered Soviets. There is something special about international hockey, something that big time salaries and labour disputes can’t even come close to.
Make this special, NHL.
Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.