Saturday, December 19, 2015

On Jack Eichel, and Ryan Johansen,

Reprinted with permission from

Was Sabres broadcaster Brad May right in criticizing the play of Buffalo's 19 yr. old rookie Jack Eichel?

Of course he was. He's an analyst. It's his job.

May, knowing full-well that he'd be in the Sabres lockerroom having to face the future face of the franchise as well as coaches and teammates, plowed forward with his analysis of a slumping Eichel. On yesterday's Hockey Hotline segment broadcast on WGR, May was pretty blunt with his observations. "Jack Eichel has to understand, and he will, he'll figure it out, that he has to work for 60 minutes," said May. "We give him latitude and leeway, but he doesn't work hard enough, because he doesn't understand it yet."

Like HH host Kevin Sylvester said, it is a fair criticism. For whatever reason, the Eichel we saw in the five games prior to last night reminded me of the Eichel who showed up for the Development Camp scrimmage--average at best. You could see the remarkable speed, skill and hockey sense he possessed but it wasn't on display.

Eichel has displayed those traits more often than not during his rookie campaign but something seems to have been missing over the course of the last five games or so. Perhaps it's fatigue as the rigors of an NHL season is new to him, especially now when the "grind" portion of the schedule has begun to kick in.

Perhaps it's his linemates as well. Some can't keep up with him when he's headed up ice with a head of steam. Others can keep up but can't finish (Eichel didn't record his first assist until the 14th game.) Some like the puck on their stick while others pass it to Eichel regardless of whether or not he's covered. And there are times when Eichel himself holds on to the puck too long or doesn't recognize the closing speed of an NHL player.

Eichel is a special talent and fans, especially Buffalo fans, know it. "He's a player that virtually every game he's played has had the anticipation of everyone in the building with his skating ability and what he can do with it," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said to Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. "It's special to watch the explosiveness he skates with."

Last night vs. Anaheim was probably Eichel's best game in a couple of weeks. He was skating well and making the right decisions while his puck-control was off the charts. The Sabres first goal was created by him moving his feet without the puck then knowing when to get rid of it. His pass from up near the blueline deflected off of linemate Evander Kane's skate as he was camped to the left of Ducks goalie John Gibson. Sabres' broadcaster Brian Duff pointed out that it was the first time since opening night that Kane and Eichel hooked up on a goal.

Eichel looked hungry on that play as he found, and created, open ice by doing exactly what May said he needed to be doing.

Nobody should have had a problem with what May had to say about Eichel's game. There's nothing wrong with pointing out deficiencies when they're evident. The reasons for said deficiencies may be up to debate, but the proof is in the pudding. Before last nights' assist Eichel had not registered a point and was a minus-4 in the prior five games and even though he hit the scoresheet against Anaheim, he still only has three goals and three assists in his last 18 games.

Is May or anyone else who agreed with his assessment (myself included) calling Eichel a bust? Hardly. In fact, we can't wait until he has adjusted to the game and found complimentary wingers who can get it done.


Columbus Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen is in head coach John Tortorella's doghouse.

The 23 year old Johansen who had a 71-point season last year found his butt parked on the bench in the third period of Tuesday's 5-1 road loss to the Dallas Stars and was up in the press box as a healthy scratch during yesterday's 7-6 win over Arizona at Nationwide Arena.

Despite the Blue Jackets having a horrible season, Johansen's six goals and 16 assists had him on a pace for 57 points. His shooting percentage seems to be what's holding him down as he went from 13.9% in 2013-14 and 12.9% in 2014-15  to only 7.7% this season. However, Tortorella seems to think there's more to it.

Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski thinks Tortorella's "tough-love" is due to Johansen's play. "He can make lazy passes. His turnovers can be egregious and costly [and] he needs to be better in his own end," wrote Wyshynski.

Wyshynski also points out that Torts "is practiced in the art of butting heads with young offensive stars, not backing down and getting results," naming one Vincent Lecavalier as a shining example of it working.

Despite the fact that Tortorella seems to be using techniques that may be more suited to the Gordie Howe/Original Six-era, expectations for players haven't changed all that much and it's all predicated on working hard no matter how skilled a player one might be. And he doesn't think Johansen's gotten it. "He does have a lot to learn. It's great, the points, and I don't want to begrudge him that," said Torts to Dan Rosen in an piece. "But it's the other part. The other part is how you handle yourself in practice and how you prepare yourself for the practice. Your preparation for games.

"It's the little things you do as you're trying to become a pro, because Joey has a lot to learn as far as what it is to be a pro. I don't judge him on the points. I watch his game and we're going through a teaching process. We're trying to get the right type of foundation on what it is to be a pro and what's the definition of competing, what's the definition of hardness, what is the definition of engagement. It's all those things. He's right in the middle of it with us."

Will Johansen be able to handle it and come out on top like Lecavalier did? Or will he sulk?

There's not a team in the league who wouldn't want a young talent like Johansen, the Sabres included. But there are two factors to take into consideration should he be on the market like many speculate he is.

First off, the cost will be high as a 70-point, 23 yr. old center with a $4m cap-hit doesn't exactly grow on trees. The Jackets will be expecting a lot in return and will probably get close to what they want even though this benching diminishes his worth slightly. The Sabres probably don't have, or won't give up, what the Jackets will want for Johansen as the key piece will be a top-four d-man along the lines of Rasmus Ristolainen. Nor do I think the Sabres would give up any package of d-men and/or a star forward plus their first rounder this season.

Secondly, although he's never said it outright, Sabres GM Tim Murray has an aversion to skill-players who are statistics-driven and soft to play against. Buffalo is building a foundation and one of the pillars is being hard to play against. Sure, they're having trouble scoring right now, but one would think that it will come along, as early as next calendar year.

As of now, I'm not so sure a player like Johansen would be the right move, even if it was far less than market value and didn't include this year's first-rounder.

For some reason Tim Connolly keeps cropping up in my head.

No comments:

Post a Comment