McDavid faces Eichel in 2 rookie centers' first NHL matchup
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Edmonton's Connor McDavid and Buffalo's Jack Eichel proved they could draw a big crowd to what was essentially a meaningless game between two non-playoff contenders on Tuesday night.
By the time it was over, the two rookie centers showed they were capable of delivering on the buzz they had generated leading up to their first NHL meeting since being selected with the first and second picks in the draft last year.
Eichel missed wide on a partial breakaway at one end, and McDavid collected the loose puck, rushed up the right wing and dribbled in a backhand at 3:48 of overtime to clinch Edmonton's 2-1 victory.
It was McDavid's second goal of the game, while Eichel was held without a point despite five shots on net.
''Big-time players, big goals,'' Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. ''I'm sure we're going to see a lot more from Connor and probably Jack as well.''
The stands were full - the Sabres announced a sold-out crowd of 19,070. And so was the press box, something McLellan acknowledged before the game.
''They're the future of our game,'' McLellan said. ''So that's why we have playoff-type coverage for two teams that are probably not going to make it.''
The outcome didn't make a dent in the standings. The Oilers remain 29th overall, and last in the Pacific Division. The Sabres remained 26th overall.
The game was also held a day before the Canadian-born McDavid and American-born Eichel are expected to be named among the first 16 players selected to the Team North America's World Cup of Hockey roster. The squad will consist of players 23 years and younger and coached by McLellan.
The only ones who spent the day deflecting attention were the two players themselves.
''You guys probably want to do it that way,'' Eichel said, when asked about facing McDavid. ''It's a team game. There's five guys on the ice and a goalie. It's a lot more than two people playing against each other.''
McDavid continued playing down any hint of a rivalry afterward.
''To be honest, it's not a big deal,'' he said.
Outside of hockey, the two have very little in common.
McDavid is from suburban Toronto and played in the Ontario Hockey League for the Pennsylvania-based Erie Otters.
Eichel was born in North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and played one year at Boston University, where he became the second freshman to win college hockey's Hobey Baker Award last year.
The two have been linked since September 2014, when NHL scouts projected them to be the top two draft prospects.
In Buffalo, fans were so excited over the chance of the Sabres drafting one or the other that they created the nickname, ''McEichel,'' combining both players' last names.
The Sabres finished last in the league last season, but were relegated to picking second after the Oilers won the draft lottery.
McDavid is a smooth-skating, playmaking center, who was chosen first because he was regarded as having more potential with his effortless stride and vision.
McDavid's season was derailed in November, when he missed 37 games with a broken collarbone. Despite the time missed, he entered the game ranking 14th among rookies with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 27 games. He was the NHL's rookie of the month after scoring five goals and 12 assists in 14 games in February.
Eichel is a strong, elusive skater, with a hard shot and provides a more physical presence with his 6-foot-2, 201-pound frame. He ranks third among rookies with 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) in 63 games.
They represent key pieces to their respective teams' rebuilding process, which are still far from finished. The Oilers haven't made the playoffs in nine straight seasons. The Sabres are coming off consecutive last-place finishes and have not made the postseason since 2011.
McLellan believes Eichel might have an edge in his NHL development because of the time McDavid missed due to injury.
''The good thing for Jack is he's kind of gone through it already and figured out some of his opponents,'' McLellan said. ''Connor's still going through that because he hasn't played half a season yet.''
The game in Buffalo was a bit of a homecoming for McDavid. While playing in Erie, he would occasionally make the 90-minute drive to watch Sabres games.
McDavid and the Otters also played a regular-season game in Buffalo in October 2014.
''It feels like it was forever ago, really,'' McDavid said, breaking into a smile. ''Definitely a lot of stuff has happened since then, but it's been a fun ride.''