Welcome to Buffalo, Jack Eichel

Ryan, Crosby, Johnson.  2005 was quite a class.

Ryan, Crosby, Johnson. 2005 was quite a class. Photo from oilersnation.com

It’s been ten years since NHL fans were this excited about a draft. The situation is much different than it was in 2005; at that time, play had been suspended for a full year due to a lack of a collective bargaining agreement between players and owners. The lottery system for this draft was convoluted, and there are enough conspiracy theories to fuel a full season of The X-Files. There were four teams with an equal chance at the greatest player to strap on skates since Wayne Gretzky – Pittsburgh, Columbus, the New York Rangers, and your very own Buffalo Sabres. In the end, Pittsburgh won the right to draft ‘The Next One,’ the highly touted Sidney Crosby.

Here we are, a decade later, and a lot has changed. The Rangers are a legit contender for the Cup. The Penguins haven’t had the best season, but they’ve played themselves into the hunt. Columbus had a disappointing season, but that was largely due to injuries. They finished strong and will be back in the race next year. Buffalo? Well…you know. The Tank heard ‘round the world. There were Tank believers. There were Tank deniers. There were Tank t-shirts. The only thing notable about the Sabres’ 2014-2015 campaign (aside from a Latvian rap song dedicated to Zemgus Girgensons) was the Tank. National media and a vocal local minority derided the Tank, going as far as to call it immoral. It was the right thing to do, and we’re not sorry.

Welcome to Buffalo!  Photo from nesn.com

Welcome to Buffalo! Photo from nesn.com

Now that the lottery has passed, the tension has abated a bit, but definitely not the excitement. Not even a little. Since the end of the 2013-2014 season, one name has been on the lips of everyone in the city of Buffalo – including GM Tim Murray, who was not shy about his love for Connor McDavid. One in five odds are tough to overcome, though, and I am here to tell you that there is no reason to be disappointed.

Buffalo got a good look at Jack Eichel at the CCM Prospects Game held on September 25th at our very own First Niagara Center. Eichel had a goal and an assist in the game, in which he and his team dominated the opposition. Since then, he engineered an incredible season at Boston University — a season in which he was the nation’s leading scorer, USCHO’s player of the year AND rookie of the year. Eichel won the Hockey East Player of the Year and the prestigious Hobey Baker Award (presented to the NCAA player who exhibits strength of character both on and off the ice and contributes to the integrity of the team and displays outstanding skills in all phases of the game) and piloted the Terriers to the Frozen Four final, only to have victory torn from their grasp by a late own-goal.

Congrats, Jack!  Photo from minnesotahockeymag.com

Congrats, Jack! Photo from minnesotahockeymag.com

As the 2014-2015 season progressed Eichel’s skills were often compared to fellow draft king, Connor McDavid. There is no question that McDavid is an incredibly gifted scorer, and while Eichel may not be quite as prolific in this area, he is a brilliant hockey player with the ability to control a game. What Eichel has done at Boston University speaks to the unique player he is. While McDavid played mainly with skaters his own age in the OHL, Eichel’s competition was generally older, and in hockey terms, that often means bigger and stronger. Despite the fact that Eichel was younger, he was still able to fight through checks, win battles, and obviously score goals. Eichel is also a clutch player; he led the NCAA in third period goals. The Sabres may have some scoring on their roster now, but I don’t know that we’ve had anyone that can be called ‘clutch’ since the days of Drury and Briere.

The real question with Eichel is whether or not he’ll enter the NHL in the 2015-2016 campaign. He and his Terriers came so close to a national championship that he may want to stay in school and complete that journey in the upcoming season. Professionally, it may make sense for him to stay in school. All eyes will be on McDavid this year, so Eichel could easily dominate the NCAA for one more year and try to steal some of the spotlight in the following season. The tedium of this past season is not lost on me – believe me – but I would not be too disappointed if Eichel spent one more year in school. Continuing to develop among some of college’s top prospects is not necessarily a bad thing. Eichel also needs to work on his face-offs, and it may be easier to develop a good technique at the collegiate level.

While we await Jack’s decision, it is easy to dream of a veritable fantasy line, where Eichel centers Evander Kane and team captain Brian Gionta. That’s not to say the Sabres roster is set. Who knows what trades Murray may engineer in order to best support his new draft pick? There is a lot to look forward to in the next two to three seasons, and watching these prospects develop is certainly going to be exciting. Buffalo may not contend for the Cup next year, but this is a GIANT step in the right direction. Welcome to Buffalo, Jack Eichel.

Looking stone cold in blue and gold.

Looking stone cold in blue and gold.

Join the conversation on twitter: @SchlagsWrites, and on facebook here.

I’ve also written about a great pairing Buffalo should consider for their late first round pick, here.

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One Comment on “Welcome to Buffalo, Jack Eichel”

  1. erikwollschlager April 19, 2015 at 8:08 am #

    Reblogged this on ewollschlager and commented:

    If second, it must be, Eichel is the closest to first we’ll ever get.

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