It might not be the medal the Americans hoped for, but the future is bright for team USA. Two top prospects, Dylan Larkin and Jack Eichel, helped lead the Americans to a bronze medal on Sunday afternoon as they took down the Czech Republic 3-0. It is their first medal since 2013, where they also won Bronze in the IIHF.
While current NHL players such as Torey Krug and Brock Nelson highlighted the tournament for USA, all eyes were on the youngsters. Jack Eichel, the projected second overall pick to the Buffalo Sabres in the upcoming NHL draft, scored a game winning goal that projected USA to winning their group. Eichel once again scored this afternoon, the second goal for the Americans in their victory.
More than just Eichel are other top American prospects. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck shone in the opportunity he was given. The Winnipeg Jets prospect spent most of his season in the American Hockey League’s St. John’s IceCaps. Whether he is with the Jets or not next season, he will be in Winnipeg as he could be with their new affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, also playing at the MTS Centre.
The other 18 year old in the tournament other than Eichel was Detroit Red Wings prospect Dylan Larkin who has played college hockey with the Michigan Wolverines. It remains to be seen if he will sign to play in Detroit or with their AHL team in Grand Rapids last season, but his solid performance against pro players should give him confidence to play beyond the college level.
The future is bright for American hockey at the pro level, and we saw some of the brightest stars in this tournament. Auston Matthews, one of the top prospects for the 2016 NHL draft, didn’t play outside of an exhibition but his presence will be in the sport for a long time to come as well.
The top two teams who will battle it out for gold are long time heavyweights Canada and Russia. The United States did well with a depleted roster to contend and take home a medal. Eichel’s abilities shined their brightest against this competition after he had a very successful first (and likely only) season in the Hockey East conference. He, along with Larkin, have proven they can play against the top professional players in the world. The question now is only when, for Larkin at least, as Eichel awaits to hear his name on draft day.