After getting his new eight-year $80 million contract from the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday evening, Jack Eichel spent a lot of his Wednesday afternoon press conference discussing leadership. While he’s entering his third season in the NHL, the former second overall pick is only 20-years-old.
It could be a lot to ask for a player his age to accept the responsibility of being the go-to guy in an NHL locker room. Eichel, however, embraces the challenge and understands that it’s an important part of becoming a complete player.
It’s Not About the Letter
After his contract extension was announced, it was widely speculated that Eichel would be named the next captain of the Sabres. At least right now, that doesn’t appear to be the case. The organization named its leadership group of assistant captains for this season on Thursday which included Zach Bogosian, Kyle Okposo, Ryan O’Reilly and Eichel.
Regardless of the contract and the “A”, Eichel had planned on coming into the season as a bigger presence. “With or without the contract that was my goal coming into camp, be a leader, be a guy that people can rely on,” said Eichel.
Some people believed that the new deal would automatically come with a “C” sewn on his sweater. Why wouldn’t that be the case? He showed the traits of a leader last year, he’s the face of the franchise and tied to the organization for the next nine years at the very least. But that wasn’t Eichel’s mindset. “I don’t think it took a contract or whatever to force me to be a leader,” he said.
Eichel became a bigger voice last season as the year progressed. There were reports that he exploded in the room after the club lost back to back games against the Boston Bruins in what were critical contests. He also became the guy on most nights that spoke openly and honestly about how the club performed in a rough season.
I don’t necessarily need to have a C or an A to be myself in the room, be a leader, speak up when needed… – Jack Eichel
In his first two seasons, he’s shown that winning is more important than his personal accomplishments. Eichel proved that again with his new contract. The agents of the star center came out after the deal was done and said they advised him to play out the season before signing. However, he wanted to get the deal done and leave the Sabres some cap flexibility to bring in a player that would help build a winning hockey club.
He wanted to make sure that there's enough money to go around to get more players and help win a Cup," Fish said.
— John Wawrow (@john_wawrow) October 4, 2017
The Boston native understands that this is the next step in his development to becoming a star player in the league. He’s had success statistically over his first two years. Now, it’s time to start becoming the guy that leads his teammates on and off the ice. He’s earned respect around the league and has the confidence to step into this role.
It may not happen this season, but Eichel will very likely be the next captain of the Sabres. There’s a trend around the league of not putting the pressure of the “C” on young players, but letting them grow into the role. The same type of scenario is unfolding just up the QEW with Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s the assumed future captain of the Leafs, but management is starting slowly by putting an “A” on his sweater. As for Eichel, once the time comes to be the captain of his team, he’ll excel with the greater responsibility.