Published by hockeybuzz.com, 3-9-2017
My, my, my.
Back in the early part of the season Buffalo's Jack Eichel was on the sidelines with a high-ankle sprain and wasn't even an afterthought in the national media. Edmonton's Connor McDavid was lighting it up, as he has and will for a once woe-begotten Oilers franchise, Toronto's trio of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander had the Leafs in a playoffs spot the year after their "tank with dignity" campaign and in Winnipeg, Jets rookie winger Patrick Laine was sniping his way to the top of the rookie scoring race.
Serious waves were being made by our neighbors to the north and happiness reigned supreme as a bevy of Canadian teams were looking like playoff contenders only a year removed from no Canadian team making the post season. And they were being lead by an impressive group of youngins.
Eichel will always play second fiddle to McDavid as he was selected second behind the phenom in what was dubbed the "McDavid Sweepstakes," which is reasonable. The two are different players with different skill sets and while McDavid showed he could take over a game on a regular basis in his injury-shortened rookie year, Eichel showed flashes of that in a somewhat choppy rookie season.
Matthews has serious skill and is stylistically more akin to McDavid. He had a brilliant four-goal opening night and leads the high-flying Leafs in scoring ahead of Marner who's second and Nylander who's fourth on the team. Laine is simply a stud in Winnipeg.
That's your grouping and at one point you'd read various pieces and comments concerning this group which had Eichel on the outside, even behind Marner and/or Nylander. Granted that usually came from Toronto fans lost in the euphoria of the Leafs quick rise, but it was out there none-the-less.
When Jack came back from injury he promptly registered a goal and assist and slowly rounded into form. However with the Sabres struggling mightily, his contributions to the team and his climb up the scoring chart went largely unnoticed outside of Buffalo. Nary aword came from the national media concerning Eichel until I pointed out last week that Sportsnet analyst Ray Ferraro put Eichel in his rightful spot amongst McDavid, Matthews and Laine while the Leafs were in Anaheim.
Since then Eichel registered three goals and two assists in three games and brought his season totals to 45 points (18+27) in 46 games and at .98 points/game he surpassed Matthews and tied Laine with both being behind McDavid. With that surge also came some well deserved attention for just how good a player he is.
However, all of a sudden there's a big concern over Eichel wasting away in Sabreland.
Eichel has big shoulders and he's carrying a big load while trying to lead the Sabres back to the playoffs for the first time in five years. It won't happen this year and even though most thought that the playoffs for Buffalo was an long-shot, "the tale of the story," according to Yahoo's Puck Daddy, Greg Wyshynski, "as it were, is that Jack Eichel is going to be on the outside of the playoffs as a freshman and a sophomore."
Sure, forget the fact that in his season preview Wyshynksi wrote this of the Sabres, "As much as we’re dying to see Jack Eichel play meaningful games and (GM) Tim Murray’s master plan show results, we just don’t think the Sabres are there yet." All of a sudden it's a concern on his part that Eichel won't be making the playoffs this season.
We appreciate that, Wysh and we also know all too well that, "what sucks for Eichel is that the Sabres are a rotten team," like you wrote earlier this week. But before we justify the part about things "suck(ing) for Eichel is that his peers are all leveling up while he’s idling," it should be pointed out that only the Connor McDavid-lead Edmonton Oilers look to be sure bets to make the playoffs. And lest we forget, this was an Oilers franchise that had not qualified for the playoffs since 2006, had three consecutive first-overall draft picks and another top-3 pick in the five years prior to landing the generational talent that is McDavid.
For all the hype Toronto's getting, they're just outside the playoffs and have some pretty good teams around them. Prior to their squeaking by with a 3-2 win over a Detroit Red Wings team that's worse than Buffalo, the Leafs were on an 0-2-3 skid. As for Laine and his Winnipeg Jets, a team that Wyshynski said "was still in the playoff mix," they've played one more game than the Sabres and have the same number of points.
Save us the concern.
It's not often where a team finishes dead last two consecutive seasons and is in the playoffs two years later so to imply that Eichel is wasting away in Sabreland is nothing more than click-bait. This season was in peril from the moment it started when Eichel went down the day before the first game and it's been a struggle ever since.
Jack Eichel's the man and one could safely assume that Murray's looking at locking him up to a long-term contract extension. The rest will play itself out beginning with the fate of coach Dan Bylsma and players like Evander Kane, Sam Reinhart and goalie Robin Lehner. Murray set himself up well with some big cap-space for next season and will gain even more if he moves some expensive dead weight.
Is there concern that they won't make the playoffs? Of course. Is Eichel languishing in Buffalo because of it? That makes for a nice headline (read: clickbait) but it's a little melodramatic for my taste buds.