Sunday, August 26, 2018

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster--C, Jack Eichel

Published by, 8-25-2018

C--Jack Eichel
6'2" 206 lbs.
21 yrs. old
2015, 2nd-overall

Career Stats:  209 games |  73 goals |  104 assists |  177 points | -54

Jack Eichel signed the richest contract in Buffalo Sabres history when he put pen to paper on an 8yr./$80 million contract last October just two days before the start of the 2017-18 campaign. The price tag for Eichel, who was in the final year of his rookie deal, was pretty much set once fellow 2015 draft pick Connor McDavid (first-overall) signed his 8 yr./$100 million extension with the Edmonton Oilers. After an injury plagued first NHL season, McDavid proceeded to lead the league in scoring with consecutive seasons of 100 and 108 points, respectively, the last two years.

For as much as we've seen Eichel dazzle, and there have been plenty of moments, he's yet to put it all together for a full season despite being at or near the top in all scoring categories on the team. In his rookie campaign he lead the Sabres in goals (24) and was second in points (56) and assists (32) while playing in 81 games. Though he struggled with injuries the last two seasons, missing 21 games in 2016-17 and 15 games last season, he still managed to lead the team in points both seasons (57 and 64, respectively) and was top-two in goals (leading in one of those seasons.)

That he was at or near the top of the team in production with numbers that are above average but well behind the league leaders says quite a bit about him but also says a lot about the team. When placed beside what McDavid posted, Eichel's stats are rather underwhelming so why did the Sabres pay that much? McDavid setting the market had a lot to do with it, but Eichel is a top-line center and really is that good.

The underlying theme since the Chelmsford, Massachusetts native hit the ice in Buffalo has been discord as the team former GM Tim Murray built was a mess. The players Murray brought in were talented and could play a certain style but as a team there was little continuity. And for their part, the Sabres coaching staff wasn't able to reign in the rather large egos Murray assembled at the top of the food chain. Add that to a team with goaltending issues and little depth thanks to the scorched earth rebuild and you get a Sabres team that rose to the outskirts of mediocrity for a season before diving back to the bottom.

Through it all Eichel's talents were above anything that the Sabres had. He lead the team in cumulative production over his three years, lead them in all three scoring categories per 60 minutes and was the only player on the team that could drive possession and offense. His stickwork is impeccable, his shot is ridiculous and his vision elite.

However, he seemed to have his own maturity/ego issues to deal with. There were times he looked disinterested on the ice, looked as if he was floating and he didn't seem to handle adversity (like losing) very well. It was also reported that there was a rift between Eichel and the now departed Ryan O'Reilly and he was accused of being a coach-killer as he and Dan Bylsma reportedly didn't see eye to eye. Many called him a defacto general manager/owner, after both Bylsma and Murray were shown the door.

This really wasn't what the face of the franchise was supposed to look like and it would seem as if he's figured that out.

When Eichel was drafted many considered the Sabres to be his team. It wasn't over the last few seasons but with all the aforementioned now gone, this is Jack Eichel's team and many feel that they will sew the 'C' on his sweater this season. The Eichel we heard from at locker cleanout sounded much more mature than the one we'd been hearing over the last couple of years and he reflected on his time in Buffalo telling the gathered media, "It feels like yesterday I started here and to be three years into my career and yet to make the impact that I'd like is frustrating for sure."

It's frustrating for ownership and the fanbase as well. Time's a wastin'. There's been a three-year hiccup with this rebuild and with cost-controlled youth being a premium driver towards success in a salary-cap world, any lost time both he and the Sabres organization take to figure it out means a tighter window with which to make a run.

New general manager Jason Botterill has made a lot of changes in his 17 months on the job which includes finding wingers (Jeff Skinner, Conor Sheary) who can skate and score while benefitting from the 2018 draft lottery to land franchise (generational?) defenseman Rasmus Dahlin at the draft in June. He's added depth to the team and has more mobility on the blue line. Things are starting to shape up nicely for him and second-year head coach Phil Housley.

And at the top of it all is Eichel.

Through all the frustrations of the past three seasons, which included over displays of equipment-throwing antics, the fiery Eichel may have passed through threshold. At a workout this past week with other Sabres players he continued his more mature approach telling the gathered media, ''I've had a few years to learn about things and see some things that occur, and the right way to do things and the wrong way to do things. I do wear my heart on my sleeve, and I'm somebody who's very competitive. I like to win. This losing the last few years, I've never dealt with that in my life. And you kind of have to learn from it and figure out what you can do to change it.

''I think that's important, obviously, not reacting, body language, staying upbeat. I think that's part of it.

''Every day, if you come in here and work and put your head down, you do the right things, you're a good teammate, I think the results in the games will take care of themselves.''

That's what a leader does and what he'll need to do.

Eichel will have a ton of pressure on him this season which includes the weight of that $80 million contract kicking in. Fortunately for him there's more talent on the team now than at any point in the past three seasons. However, it still comes down to him as he's at the top of the food chain for the Sabres.

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster:

C-Jack Eichel

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