Ailing Eichel Voted an All-Star Again

Call it two in a row. For the second straight year, Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel is an NHL All-Star.

Eichel, who leads Buffalo with 49 points (15 goals and 34 assists) in 40 games, was the only Sabre to be named to the event to be held on Saturday, Jan. 26 at 8 P.M. at SAP Center in San Jose.

However, that could change as Jeff Skinner, the second-leading goal scorer in the league, still has a shot at getting in. The new “Last Man In” ballot allows fans to vote for one final player for each divisional team’s roster. Voting opens Thursday at noon and closes Jan. 10 at 11:59 P.M. for the final spot on each team.

Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel
The Sabres top line features Reinhart, Skinner and Jack Eichel. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Skinner and his 26 goals are by no means a shoo-in to make it. Other notable names on the ballot include:

  • Brayden Point (Tampa Bay Lightning)
  • Morgan Rielly (Toronto Maple Leafs)
  • Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins)
  • Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings)
  • Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers)
  • Mark Stone (Ottawa Senators)
  • Shea Weber (Montreal Canadiens)

The Atlantic Division Team

The Atlantic Division is captained by Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Eichel and Matthews know one another well and shared one of the best moments in last year’s All-Star Game that was played in Tampa. After Matthews had a goal disallowed earlier in the week due to goalie interference, he followed it up by unquestionably scoring again and pointing emphatically at the net. It not only signaled a good goal, it sent some shade toward referee Gord Dwyer. This time, after Eichel buried a go-ahead goal against the Metropolitan Division, both youngsters pumped their arms at the net. The hand gestures simulating a “good goal” were as prominent as the smile on each player’s face. Fun and creativity at an All-Star game. Imagine that.

Other players named to the Atlantic Division team are forwards Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs and David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins. The blue line corps will include Thomas Chabot of the Ottawa Senators and Keith Yandle of the Florida Panthers. Goaltending duties will be shared by Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings and Carey Price Montreal Canadiens.

All-Star Captains

This year will mark the fourth installment of the round-robin 3-on-3 tournament. Fan voting led to each division naming their captain. While Matthews was chosen to lead the Atlantic, Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals was chosen to captain the Metropolitan, Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche was selected to lead the Central and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers will guide the Pacific.

Ovechkin mentioned in an interview on Wednesday that he will forego the game and rest instead.

“First of all, thanks for all the fans who voted for me,” said the Russian sniper. “I know it’s a tough decision obviously. I like to be part of all the events, but right now I think that time of the year and my age we decide to take a one-week break. It’s hard but it’s better for me, I think, at this point.”

Alex Ovechkin
Ovechkin admitted he needs some rest. (Photo: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Per NHL rules, that means he must serve a one-game suspension. He can sit out his team’s final game before the All-Star break or the first one after it.

The skills competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 at 9 P.M. ET.

Buffalo’s Connections at the All-Star Game

Last year, Eichel was sent to Tampa as the lone Sabres representative. He played two games for the Atlantic Division and had a goal and two assists.

Former Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly, now with St. Louis Blues who are sitting in last place in the Western Conference, was named to the Central Division team. He has 15 goals and 20 assists in 37 games and is on pace to shatter his personal best for goals, assists and points. South Buffalo native Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks will play in his ninth All-Star game.

Will Eichel Be Able to Play?

The looming $10 million question is, what’s wrong with Eichel?

After taking a maintenance day on Sunday and not skating, Eichel took part in drills on Monday morning and during the pre-game warmup. But, after a few shifts, the captain disappeared to the locker room and never returned. A few minutes after the second period began, Sabres PR staff noted he would not be returning.

Jack Eichel Buffalo Sabres
An injury update is expected on Thursday for Jack Eichel (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

No one has leaked any detail about what the problem is or how long it could keep him sidelined. All that’s known is that he’s out with an upper-body injury per coach Phil Housley that was re-aggravated during the first period of Monday night’s game against the New York Islanders. Details are expected Thursday before the Sabres host the Florida Panthers.

“I don’t think it’s going to keep him out too long,” said Housley in typical coachspeak. Though he points to it not being too serious, the panic button is always within reach for Sabre fans and rightly so. Eichel is the unquestionable driver of the team’s offense. Should he miss an extended period of time, the slumping Sabres could suffer dire consequences.

Secondary scoring has been the Sabres’ Achilles heel thus far. Losing Eichel would punch a hole through the top line, leaving behind a roster of depth players who aren’t producing.

Related: Eichel Demonstrates His Beast Mode

Rosters for Each Division

Metropolitan Division:
Forwards: Sebastian Aho (Carolina), Cam Atkinson (Columbus), Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders), Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh), Claude Giroux (Philadelphia), Taylor Hall (New Jersey).
Defense: John Carlson (Washington), Seth Jones (Columbus).
Goal: Braden Holtby (Washington), Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers).

Central Division:
Forwards: Nathan MacKinnon, Kane, O’Reilly, Mikko Rantanen (Colorado), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg), Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg).
Defense: Miro Heiskanen (Dallas), Roman Josi (Nashville).
Goal: Devin Dubnyk (Minnesota), Pekka Rinne (Nashville).

Pacific Division:
Forwards: Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary), Clayton Keller (Arizona), Joe Pavelski (San Jose), Elias Pettersson (Vancouver).
Defense: Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson (San Jose), Drew Doughty (Los Angeles).
Goal: Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas), John Gibson (Anaheim).