Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Sabres rookie center Jack Eichel is plugging along in his first NHL season. Through 32 games he's shown feats of brilliance as well as on his way to 14 points in 32 games. His nine goals and five assists would be good numbers for any 19 yr. old in a league of men, but for the #2-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, those are rather pedestrian in light of the fact that he's considered a franchise player.
He's in a slump right now having been held off the score sheet in his last five games and has only three goals and two assists in his last 17 games. Where once he was keeping pace with the likes of Edmonton's Connor McDavid (12 points in 13 games before his injur,) Arizona's Max Domi (25 points in 30 games) and Detroit's Dylan Larkin (22 points in 31 games,) Eichel has dropped back to the second level of what looks to be an outstanding rookie class. Even worse is his minus-7 plus/minus rating which puts at 124th amongst the 129 rookies charted by NHL.com.
Cause for panic?
Probably not. The usual excuses like rookie inconsistencies, the grind of an NHL season and not having the proper linemates all have merit as he's adapting an learning as he goes. However one thing he can do to help his cause is to put more effort into each shift as laid out by Sabres broadcast analyst, Brad May.
May was on WGR's Hockey Hotline today and addressed the issue head on. Knowing full-well that as a broadcaster he'd be headed into the locker room having laid it all out on Eichel, May simply stated that Eichel "doesn't work hard enough" and said that he needs to "work for 60 minutes."
Eichel has supreme talent and speed as well as innate hockey sense to the point where May said that "he doesn't have to work too hard to get into the right spot" and that "he wins every foot race when he has the chance to shoot the puck or win the puck." But May concludes simply that Eichel "doesn't move his feet enough" and he believes that the talented rookie "has been given a free pass."
May qualified everything he said mentioning that during his career as a fourth-liner where he had to play in overdrive every shift just to get ice time much less score a goal and also said that he's not really worried about Eichel's future as once he figures it out, he'll be the superstar he can be. But it's been rather troubling to see him in a slump and not giving everything he's got on every shift to try and bust through it.
To be fair, Eichel has not had the linemates thus far to help create space for him and/or help him out of his slump by getting into a position to score a goal. May mentioned Zemgus Girgensons as a player who would be a good fit with Eichel. Girgensons can work the d-men, work the corners and open up some ice down low or he can be a complimentary player riding shotgun on the Eichel Express. But Bylsma has him in a third-line, defensive role. He also has the speed to keep up with Eichel on offense as well as the speed and tenacity to get back on the back check.
We won't be seeing the Latvian Locomotive up with the Eichel Express this game, at least to start as head coach Dan Bylsma is sticking with some lines that have worked well over the past few games.
The top line, according to the Sabres twitter page, remains Ryan O'Reilly centering Jamie McGinn and rookie Sam Reinhart. Eichel will be with Evander Kane and Matt Moulson.
Girgensons will be centering Johan Larsson and veteran Brian Gionta again. This line has been a veritable tour-de-force the last few games in a defensive role. The fourth line is David Legwand, Cal O'Reilly and Nic Deslauriers.
On defense the pairings continue to be locked in with Rasmus Ristolainen/Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe/Zach Bogosian and Mike Weber/Cody Franson.
The Sabres also tweeted that Chad Johnsons is in net and that Tyler Ennis skated as the extra forward and has been moved from week-to-wee to day-to-day. It's still questionable as to when he'll hit the ice again although Bylsma said he's "hopeful" Ennis will be back for the Chicago game on Satruday.
After the Sabres finish their matinee vs. the Blackhawks at 1:00 PM on the First Niagara Ice, they will be off until the following Saturday when they travel to Boston to take on the Bruins for the first time this season.