When the big book of Jack Eichel gets written somewhere down the line, it’s unlikely that the author will devote a lot of space to a goal the Sabres’ top pick in the 2015 draft scored in a prospect tournament against a bunch of Boston Wanna-B’s.
But it sure felt like a special moment all the same.
Eichel sealed a 3–2 OT win for the Sabres in the finale of the Buffalo Prospects Challenge with a laser of a wrister that beat Boston’s Zane McIntyre far side. It was a spot Eichel had tried to hit—but missed—at least twice earlier in the evening. But with the game on the line, when his team needed it most, he found the mark.
The real beauty of that play though wasn’t the shot. It was Eichel’s ability to create space with his wheels through the neutral zone. Boston’s Anton Blidh, a forward prospect who earns high marks for his own skating, was even with Eichel when the Sabres center got the puck, but quickly fell a step behind and couldn’t get close enough again to interfere with the scoring attempt.
And Eichel managed to find that extra gear despite being double-shifted throughout the third period and OT. Amazing.
While that’s the play that will get the most attention, it wasn’t his only highlight moment of the night. Earlier, Eichel keyed the game-tying goal with 5:47 left in the third. Set up on the outside of the face-off circle, he spotted defenseman Brycen Martin creeping in from the point and hit him with a perfect saucer pass that eluded Boston’s pressing defense. Martin made no mistake, beating a helpless McIntyre with a one-timer.
That was a rare dish, the perfect encapsulation of Eichel’s poise, hockey sense and soft hands.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to forget that pass. It was so perfect,” Martin told NHL.com. “He can make plays that some pros can’t. At such a young age, it’s such an exceptional talent. He just brings the energy everywhere. In the room and off the ice and even on the ice, he’s a true diamond and Buffalo is going to be real happy with him in the future.”
No doubt about that. But what remains to be seen is if Buffalo is happy pairing Eichel with fellow youngster Sam Reinhart. The duo demonstrated some natural chemistry after being teamed for the first time with the Sabres down by two. The duo, skating with the very impressive Evan Rodrigues, created several chances, including one glorious opportunity late in the second when Reinhart just missed on a chance created by another brilliant Eichel feed.
“I think the poise of Sam and the ability of [Eichel] to finish some of the plays, they complement each other,” Buffalo prospects coach Randy Cunneyworth said. “They’re guys that see each other and see the ice very well. It’s a natural pairing.”
It seems unlikely the two rookies will skate together at even strength during the regular season given the defensive challenges they’ll face as they adapt to the pros. Still, it is possible they could line up with each other on the power play, and maybe in the new 3-on-3 OT format, where they’d have more time and space to work their magic.
But even if doesn’t happen this year, it will soon. And with talent like that, there are many more special moments to come.
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• The Maple Leafs are putting on a brave face ahead of what's expected to be a long, painful rebuilding season.
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• All things considered, this college goalie has probably made better decisions than chugging a beer in the middle of a game.