Hope for the future for the Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames revolves around Jack Eichel and Johnny Gaudreau.
These teams have the second-worst records in their respective conferences, and the visiting Flames have lost a season-high six straight as they look to sweep the Sabres on Thursday night.
Buffalo (25-31-8) and Calgary (26-33-4) won't be going to the postseason. That's something the Sabres likely expected after four straight absences resulted in them selecting second in the draft and choosing Eichel. It's more disappointing for the Flames, who ended a five-season playoff drought in 2014-15 and defeated Vancouver in the first round.
In any case, Thursday's matchup will feature two of the NHL's rising young talents in Eichel and Gaudreau. They each won the Hobey Baker Award as the top college player in the country, with Gaudreau claiming that honor in 2014 for Boston College and Eichel the next season for Boston University.
Gaudreau was the star when they first met with the winning goal with 4:50 left in a 4-3 victory Dec. 10, also assisting on Sean Monahan's go-ahead score with 10:35 remaining. Eichel was held without a point.
The Sabres rookie has failed to add to his 41-point total in five straight after Tuesday's 2-1 overtime home loss to Edmonton, in which top overall pick Connor McDavid scored the winner.
''We didn't play well at all,'' Eichel said. ''It started with the way we came out. We just didn't do a lot of good things as a team."
Eichel's five-game point drought has coincided with Ryan O'Reilly going down with a lower-body injury Feb. 19. O'Reilly leads the Sabres with 49 points, and Eichel had five points in a four-game run in the last four games they played together.
Buffalo is enduring a 1-3-1 stretch, but that's better than Calgary's recent play. The Flames are 0-5-1 in their skid after falling 2-1 at Boston on Tuesday.
Gaudreau came up empty as his eight-game streak in which he amassed 12 points ended. Rookie defenseman Jakub Nakladal scored the lone goal.
Nakladal won't be the only young player seeing action down the stretch. Garnet Hathaway has played twice as a rookie while Jyrki Jokipakka made his Flames debut Tuesday after being acquired from Dallas.
"We're going to see a lot about the character on this hockey club," coach Bob Hartley told the team's official website. "We have a lot. Guys like Jokipakka and Hathaway and all those guys, they are coming in and they want to make a name for themselves and we have some players that need to put some money in the bank. There is no reason to quit and obviously we're not going to accept anyone quitting."
Four defeats during the slide have been by one or two goals.
"Nobody likes losing and that's what has been happening here lately," Gaudreau said. "We have to change it. I think four or five games could have been the opposite way around."
The Flames acquired goaltender Niklas Backstrom from Minnesota on Monday, but Jonas Hiller is expected to start.