Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Building the 2015-16 Buffalo Sabres roster--C, Jack Eichel

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

In case you haven't heard of him, Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel was the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and as of right now is more famous due forever being linked to 2015 first-overall draft pick, Connor McDavid, via one word--McEichel.

While Oilers fans ditched the "Eichel" part and promptly crowned Connor "McJesus" in Edmonton, Eichel strapped on his work boots, packed his lunch pail and headed to Buffalo to get settled in as a big piece of the future of the Buffalo Sabres. That's not to say that McDavid doesn't have a work ethic or is the type that will believe in the whole "McSavior" aura, as it's more of a perception thing from the outside world, but they're in very different situations. Both McDavid and Eichel are extremely talented hockey players who work hard at their craft, and although they're both considered franchise players, neck-in-neck in most pundits assessment, they come at if from different directions.

Unlike McDavid in Edmonton who will be the clear-cut No.1 center, Eichel looks to be starting at the No. 2 center position behind Ryan O'Rielly. Sabres GM Tim Murray is of the opinion that O'Reilly will garner the tough assisngments while allowing his young centers time to develop. That certainly could change as the season progresses and Eichel adapts to both the speed of the NHL game and the size of the players he'll be facing on a nightly basis. He adapted rather well to the upgrade in size and talent at the 2015 IIHF World Championships this year and despite his modest proclamations as to how he'll need to work hard to "make the team," about the only question with him is, when will he take over top-line center duties for the club.

Eichel's work ethic is impeccable, something that was instilled in him at a very young age by his father, Bob, who was described as a "simple and unassuming man" by Bucky Gleason of The Buffalo News in a July 4, 2015 profile piece.

For those who have not read it, Gleason, in his piece, Jack Eichel’s work ethic and homespun personality make him a perfect fit for Buffalo, did a masterful job profiling Eichel's youth growing up in North Chelmsford, MA, a working class neighborhood less than an hour north of Boston. Amongst the things Gleason covered was how Bob Eichel tried to keep his son grounded and reminding him never forget his roots, how he knew that Jack was a special talent but that he "resisted the temptation to predict greatness for his kid," and that "he and his wife, Anne, weren’t trying to build a great hockey player. Their goal was to raise a good human being."

"Never one to assume anything or take things for granted," wrote Gleason. "Eichel’s said his first goal in Buffalo was to make the team. It was in line with the way he was raised. Eichel is not short on confidence, but his parents long ago made it clear that nothing is guaranteed in life. Perhaps that helped drive him."

Those are just the immeasurables. When one watches Eichel live, you can see why he's been touted as a franchise-type player.

His speed and acceleration are incredible for a 6'2" 198 lb. player as witnessed at every level. Nate Leaman who's Providence Friars team beat Eichel's BU team in the NCAA Finals to win the National Championship witnessed that first-hand. "He's a really dynamic player," Leaman told me, "his skating is so good that he was a threat wherever he was on the ice. He was even a larger threat coming out of his defensive zone because when he was able to work up and get his speed going he was really, really tough to defend."

Just ask the New Jersey Devils prospects about that.

A mere :25 seconds into Friday night's game between Buffalo and New Jersey, Eichel broke from the Buffalo bluleline with a head of steam. By the time he reached the top of the New Jersey faceoff circle he was behind the defense with the puck. One beautiful pass to a hard-charging Nicholas Baptiste, who did everything in his power to get into the play, and the score was 1-0.

Eichel has the ability to finish as well as set up and has an NHL-ready frame that makes him difficult to get off the puck.

And he's only 18.

Murray, despite the media's contention that he was "disappointed" in having to draft Eichel instead of winning the lottery for McDavid, knows what he's got in Eichel and wasn't afraid to say it. "We're obviously here for a great event in this organization's history," said Murray at the announcement of Eichel signing his entry-level deal. "We're here to welcome Jack. We're extremely excited about (him signing) and we're going to go forward here in a professional manner and this young man (Eichel) is hopefully going to take us places where we haven't been and take us up from where we haven't been in a couple of years."

That journey, for Eichel and the Sabres, begins in the top-six for Buffalo this year. Once he acclimates himself to his surroundings and is comfortable in his play, which could be around Christmas or sooner, we'll see just how far he and the team can go.

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