Published by hockeybuzz.com, 8-30-2017
6'2" 196 lbs.
20 yrs. old
Career Stats: 142 games | 48 goals | 65 assists | 113 points | -29
In the past three years, the Buffalo Sabres have gone through immense changes that had the franchise pulling in various directions. With a new GM and new head coach, perhaps it's finally time to point the team in one direction and hitch their fortunes to their franchise center--Jack Eichel--whom the team is presently negotiating a long-term contract extension with.
Eichel will be entering the final year of his entry-level deal this season and the two sides have been working on a contract extension reportedly at the NHL max of eight years. He's said he wants to be in Buffalo and the Sabres, obviously, want him in Buffalo long-term. Rumors have it that the deal is pretty much done and that an announcement will be forthcoming in September.
As we head into the 2017-18 season and start building the team, Eichel is on top. For the last two seasons we began with Ryan O'Reilly, which was warranted, but Eichel has shown that this is his time now and it's not so much about his play or production as it is about whether or not he's ready to take the reigns as the leader of the team.
When all's said and done, I like Kris Baker's idea that they should have a press conference announcing the extension while also naming Eichel the captain of the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres are without one right now with the very professional Brian Gionta not re-signed and it really comes down to two choices in Buffalo--Eichel and O'Reilly. With all due respect to O'Reilly, this franchise, one that's been mired in mediocrity (or worse) for a decade, could use a big kick in the ass and I don't think that's within him.
I wrote of the captaincy at the end of the season and laid out a case for Eichel--"You can define ideals all you want, but the biggest factor which stretches through every Stanley Cup winner is hunger. How bad do you want it?
"One constant...is that through the last 10 seasons Buffalo has had captains that exude professionalism, but do not seem to have an ultra competitive desire, a pure hatred of losing...for a team that's been unable to rise above mediocrity, perhaps it's time to alter the definition of the franchise, and it may begin by sewing a 'C' on the type of player who may not exude the professionalism of previous captains in Buffalo, but who's passion for the game and hatred of losing far outweighs a post-game interview and/or a seeming look of detachment at an end of season presser."
Jack Eichel had some issues with what was transpiring in Buffalo this past season and they were visible. Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News was particularly turned off by Eichel's actions at the end of the season and wrote about it. "[He] has some growing up to do if he wants to be taken seriously as a leader. Leaders don't undercut the coach as many times as Eichel has this season. Or make veiled comments about teammates," as Harrington referenced Dan Bylsma, Josh Gorges and Sam Reinhart.
He concluded, "Leaders don't brood and pout in front of the media either like Eichel did to absurd levels Monday on locker cleanout day."
Although Harrington makes some good points, the Sabres need to get out of the doldrums. Having a three-time Cup-winning executive building the team is a big step in the right direction, and having an up-and-coming rookie head coach, who was also a Hall-of-Fame player, could be another one. But the Sabres spent two years in the tank to get the opportunity to draft a franchise center who has an immense passion for the game and they should give him the reigns.
We know Eichel's skill-set and we watched his production jump from .691 points/game his rookie season to .934 ppg in 2016-17 and we also saw him cover all three zones using his remarkable skating ability. He has areas to work on like faceoffs and...other things, but other than that he's got electrifying traits we haven't seen in Buffalo since Pat LaFontaine in the early 90's or possibly dating back to Gilbert Perreault in the '70's.
So as we begin to build the roster for this season, in Eichel's case, we're actually building the roster behind him for the next (hopefully) nine years. Which is what a franchise center is all about.
Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster:
C, Jack Eichel