Sunday, April 14, 2019

Impressions of, and questions concerning--Jack Eichel

 Center, Jack Eichel

DOB: October 28, 1996
Draft: 2015, 2nd overall
How acquired: Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed: October 3,2017; 10y,/$80 million begins in 2018-19
Final year of contract: 2025-26

2018-19 Stats:  77 games | 28 goals | 54 assists | 82 points | -11 |  20:26 ATOI

Buffalo Career Stats:  286 games | 101 goals | 158 assists | 259 points |  -65 | 19:53 ATOI

What we wrote preseason:  Jack Eichel signed the richest contract in Buffalo Sabres history when he put pen to paper on an 8yr./$80 million contact just two days before the start of the 2017-18 campaign. 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. 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. 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. 

Through it all Eichel's talents were above anything that the Sabres had. 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 and he was accused of being a coach-killer as he and Dan Bylsma reportedly didn't see eye to eye. New general manager Jason Botterill has made a lot of changes and at the top of it all is Eichel. 

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.

What we wrote mid-season:  Not only did Botterill and the Sabres receive over the summer (with the trade for Jeff Skinner,) he also gave in the form of Ryan O'Reilly, whom he traded to the St. Louis Blues. Although the return for O'Reilly was three players and two draft picks, the most important aspect of the deal right now centers around Eichel, who was drafted as a franchise center but for various reasons was never able to call the Sabres his team. After dealing with drama and injuries his first three NHL seasons, Captain Jack is coming into his own and has been every bit the player who was drafted second overall in 2015 reaching an overall maturity-level that has catapulted him towards his full potential. 

He started out this season being a deft distributor of the puck while leading the team with a full 200' game and recently rediscovered his shot (after changing to a stick with a little less flex, according to reports.) He heads into the Christmas break tied for seventh in the league in scoring with 48 points and is on pace to become the first Sabres player to record 100 points in a season since Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny both did it in 1992-93. Eichel's 34 assists rank him tied for fifth in the NHL.

Impressions on his play this year:  The main benefactor of that early surge of playmaking and point-producing by Eichel was Skinner. In the first two months of the season Eichel registered 27 assists through 27 games with 17 being primary assists. Skinner, who was on his line often and was also on the first powerplay unit, had 20 goals in those games. It's never been in doubt that Eichel's a point-producer on the Sabres  as he's finished top-three in all scoring categories in all four seasons, which includes leading Buffalo in points the last three years, but his overall game still needed work.

Eichel's 200' game has gotten much better, but it still needs some work. Just how much d-zone work he and the rest of the Sabres need will be determined after sifting through the ashes of former head coach Phil Housley's catastrophic defensive scheme. Eichel also made great strides on the faceoff dot winning 47% of his draws after winning just over 40% of his faceoffs in his first three seasons.

The mechanics are there, as they've always been and much of the immediate future centers around Eichel's maturation process which seemed to come around rather nicely after he donned the 'C' this season. His fierce competitiveness rubbed off on his team early on but faded as the season dragged on and the losses piled up. A lot was placed upon him and his fellow scorers this season, as they didn't have much of a supporting cast, so it's not surprising that they wore down in the mid-latter part of the season. Despite the overall failures of his team, however, Captain Jack looked comfortable in a leadership role and his team seemed to take to him as their captain. 

Questions moving forward:  Can he continue his upward trajectory in production? How soon will he join the elite of the league? With a year as captain under his belt, will he be able to continue to grow in a leadership role? When adversity hits, as it most certainly will, how much has he learned and how can he help lead his team out of it? Can he mentor a player like Victor Olofsson and/or other skilled players that may be coming up through the ranks? Can he get his teammates to rally around the Sabres logo? How can he and the new coach tap into the talent on hand and work to get them moving in the right direction? Will this be the season he puts it all together?

Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via and hockey

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