Jack Eichel wouldn’t be the first to watch the aura of Buffalo simply sap any knowledge of his existence from the Earth. Really only Dominik Hasek has been able to make a name for himself there, and he had to flee to Detroit to actually win something. Did you know James Lofton actually played football instead of just talked about it? Remember Andre Reed? Of course you don’t 13,000 yards receiving before it was cool. We bet you think LeSean McCoy died after his days as an Eagle. Nope, He plays in Buffalo. We know, right?
Eichel has suffered because of some things out of his control. One, it’s hot his fault his main contemporary, Connor McDavid, has a Hart Trophy already, made the second round of the playoffs, and has turned various family size cans of tuna like Patrick Maroon or Milan Lucic into useful things for at least a little while. Eichel can’t help that the defense behind him has always been the remedial clown college. It’s not Eichel’s fault the goaltending has been at best up-and-down, and at times looked like a collection of newborn gorillas.
You may not know this, but Eichel’s career 0.84 PPG mark for his first three years at ages 19-21 ranks him comfortably along Tavares, Hall, Toews, and Kopitar at the same ages. And in all their cases aside from Toews basically, they were each playing with trash.
But that’s the thing with Eichel. He hasn’t exactly played with trash.
Last year he mostly skated with Sam Reinhart, who while still young is hardly inept. This year it was Evander Kane, and while we might want to see him come up close and personal with a flame-thrower he’s a talented player, and Jason Pominville, who admittedly at this point in his career is dust and bones. His rookie year saw him mostly with Kane as well. Again, these aren’t world-beaters, but they’re better than Maroon or Lucic.
And what’s a touch worrying is that these players don’t seem to get better with Eichel. Kane’s, before the trade, and Pominville’s metrics stay about the same whether they’re playing with Eichel or not. But Eichel’s go down measurably. It was the same last year.
What may be frustrating Sabres fans just a touch is that given his pedigree, it feels like there should be a touch more from him. Quite simply in the past ten years, no college freshman has come close to Eichel’s 71 points at BU, except for Kyle Connor at Michigan. Connor potted his 25th goals against the Hawks on Thursday, a total that Eichel has yet to see. Though given injuries, he probably would have. Again, he’s not been bad, but it’s fair to question if there shouldn’t be more. Also considering he’s already gotten a coach fired.
On the plus side, Eichel’s possession rates have improved every year relative to his team, though even that comes with the caveat that he’s had to have his zone starts really sheltered this year. He starts over 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone for a team that doesn’t get there very often. A true #1 should be able to start anywhere, you’d hope.
Eichel still promises the moon, and maybe given different winger who set him up more than he’s had he’ll truly take off. He’s definitely a shoot-first guy and hasn’t really had a playmaker with him. The Sabres aren’t going anywhere until that happens.
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