Jack Eichel moves around the ice like a lava lamp.
The Boston University freshman makes hockey -- dangerous and difficult -- look quite safe and easy within his slippery surface encased in glass.
It's been this way since his parents, Bob and Anne, policed his fledgling mini-stick hockey career at age 3 in North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston.
Little Jack would be instructed to go earn whatever he would get. When you grow up not rich and not poor, you are not all that far off from either, but you are closer to poor.
This state of mind and currency creates patience mixed with an undercurrent of urgency. Stir that together and you have a kid with a chance to go places.
Jack Eichel is that classic -- often reported as extinct -- middle-class American kid. Oh, and as his BU head coach David Quinn said, "He's a physical freak with strength, vision and an NHL shot." That helps, too.
But, as we have seen many times in sports, those skills are not enough. No one does it alone.
A lava lamp's function is not to create light, but to create a mood. As your eyes fixate, the unpredictable, syrupy movements put you in a state of calmed focus. It's hard to take your eyes off it.
Boston University marked its lava lamp with a firetruck-red No. 9. There's a new kid in town.
I drove up to Boston last weekend to see and meet the kid in person. Jack Eichel is a 6-foot-1, 18-year-old buoyant blob of wax still cooling and congealing as he makes his purposeful strides toward the 2015 NHL draft in Sunrise, Florida.
Eichel's name will be the first or second called next June 26. He will hold up an NHL jersey (Buffalo's? Carolina's? Winnipeg's? Arizona's? Florida's? Toronto's?), smile and begin his NHL career soon after.
It's hard to picture him not playing in the NHL next season. A few NHL scouts today believe Eichel could step in and be a No. 1 center this season. Eichel is expected to go either first or second overall, depending on where Connor McDavid, who is playing for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, goes.
This has been predicted for a while now. This has NHL scouts and GMs salivating.
And perhaps to dissuade teams from going the tanking route to improve their draft position, the league decreased the worst team's chances for the first pick from 25 percent to 20 percent. The team with the second-fewest points will have a 13.5 percent chance at the top pick, a reduction from 18.8 percent. Reduce all they want, the best chance to get the first-overall pick is to finish last.
Now, unlike a lava lamp, Eichel has major wattage. Because of the NHL draft forecast, he has cast a bright light back on the hockey program of Boston University, a team that was an irrelevant 10-21-4 last season in head coach David Quinn's first season succeeding Jack Parker's 40-year, 897-win, three-national-championship run.
They appear to be an NCAA tournament team this season. Eichel's heat source is a competitive streak and a life around a game, hockey, that, for the most part, chisels young boys into selfless, team-first young men who crave inclusion.
Jack Eichel is almost always looking to pass. He dives into the postgame group hug with vigor and sincerity. He is not aloof. He is engaged.
He is an outlier not only in terms of talent, but also in the way he was raised. The message from his parents was simple: You will get what you earn and nothing will be given to you. Go work hard. No special treatment is expected.
This is rare for a player of his talent. A lot of hockey parents on high-caliber travel teams are overzealous and want free tuition, a guarantee on ice time, a guarantee about who their son is going to play with.
That never happened with Bob and Anne as their son played on his travel hockey teams. They didn't showcase their son. They parented him.
Eichel was clearly the best 1996-born player in Massachusetts as he entered his teens just five years ago, yet he wasn't heavily recruited. He played on Team Mass '96, played an independent schedule, toured all of the prep schools and played in all of those tournaments, and yet no one called.
No one saw the first- or second-best player in the world in his age group.
In 2010, at 13, he would join the Boston Junior Bruins, run by former Boston College centerman Chris Masters and his brother Peter, who played defense for the Eagles.
Chris Maters says of Eichel, "He is an unselfish player that plays his best in big situations. He is a leader on and off the ice. I haven't met a teammate who doesn't like him or like playing with him."
Fifteen months later, Eichel was no longer in the weeds. Both Boston College and Boston University offered full scholarships. And a little over a year after that, he was projected as a first-round draft pick, and today he is projected as the first or second player taken.
The Eichel family was blown away by the full scholarship offers and the NHL talk. All of this time, especially when the phone was quiet and when the family was just looking for a place or school to play, it never crossed their minds that Jack could become a pro or the prospect that he has become.
After graduating high school in three years to give him the option of playing NCAA hockey and thus close to home, Eichel enrolled at Boston University. And here he is.
For the first time he is playing for his school. He has never done that before.
Eichel played his first three college hockey games as a 17-year-old: Three goals, three assists and a plus-8.
He turned 18 on Tuesday, and he already is on the doorstep of a Jonathan Toews-comparable body. Just a little more weight and little more body thickness needed to prepare for the much more physical game that awaits him at the final level.
Eichel is a whisker over 6-foot-1, with 195 sinewy pounds on his frame. As he walked to the shooting practice cage underneath BU's Agannis Arena with Drake bumping in his earbuds, he has a spring to his step. He walks the Earth with mini-calf raises.
On the latest round of strength testing, he front-squatted 320 pounds, cleaned 335 pounds, had a close-grip bench press of 250 pounds, a pull-up max of 25 reps, and body fat percentage of 6.3 percent.
"He is very competitive and a great team guy," Quinn says. "He wants the responsibility of being the best player and a team leader."
"You think of great players, and they might just be skilled," says fellow BU freshman Brandon Fortunato, who also played with Eichel on U.S. national teams, "but Jack is a complete player that plays with a lot of passion."
On this Friday night, Eichel and BU are going up against Michigan State, a tight-checking team that relies on its excellent goaltender, Jake Hildebrand. Eichel and his linemates, Danny O'Regan and Ahti Oksanen, had numerous scoring chances. It could have been 5-0 but the only goal scored was Oksanen, scoring on a feed from Eichel.
Watching any young top NHL prospects, people often look for comparables to give them a vision of a player's style and perhaps potential. Sometimes players themselves do this.
"I like looking at Mike Modano," said Eichel, referring to the first overall pick in 1988. "Him being an American, and his career speaks for itself. I like watching [Sidney] Crosby and Toews; those guys do everything so well. But, I think I play pretty similar to Jeff Carter. Big, strong, skilled power forward."
Eichel has a long, powerful stride that makes him a deceptively fast skater, much like the stride Mario Lemieux had. He looks like he is not working hard, but that is because he has such a long, graceful, efficient stride, like he is floating on the ice.
Eichel has an abnormally long reach like Evgeni Malkin, and he does a great job protecting the puck with that reach. He also has great vision, seeing plays before they happen and plays that other players don't see. If you play with Eichel, you'd better make sure your stick is on the ice and never doubt that he can get you the puck.
He accelerates with his head up carrying the puck and has the skill and attitude to beat players one-on-one. What makes players like Eichel so promising at the next level is that he also has a big-time release and a goal-scoring touch and also scores from bad angles like great players seem to do. He's a game-changer who makes players around him better.
An area Eichel wants to improve on?
"I want to work on bearing down on the net," Eichel said. "Bearing down and getting that goal that can help separate us on the scoreboard. "
Jack Eichel's New England homecoming continues all year long at Boston University. Family, friends, the Beanpot, the Hockey East tournament and, hopefully, an NCAA tournament bid, and then he will have a framed BU jersey to hang on his wall for life.
All signs point to him being a one-and-done and on to the NHL next season. Hockey equipment companies are primed to give him big bucks in endorsement deals.
He will have little to prove by going back to college. All that will be left is whether he goes No. 1 overall in the NHL draft.
"Obviously, everybody wants to go No. 1," he said. "It's not the be-all and end-all, and it's not the end of the day if I don't. It's an exciting year for me and my family. I want to go No. 1 because I'm a real competitive guy, but there's a lot of players that have had successful NHL careers that didn't go No. 1."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said Lawrence Academy didn't call Jack Eichel or his parents regarding a possible acceptance to the school. After further reporting, we were unable to conclusively confirm this information, so we have removed the reference.