Jack Eichel’s Emergence as a Hart Trophy Candidate

During this NHL season, fans have seen many young players finally develop into the stars they have been projected to be, but nobody has turned more heads than Jack Eichel.

There is no doubt that Jack Eichel has been the MVP of the Buffalo Sabres for quite some time, but rather than focusing on personal success, he has taken it upon himself this season to be at the forefront of change in this organization as they push to become a Stanley Cup contending team.

Signs of Development

At just 23 years of age, it seems odd to be looking back at Jack Eichel’s career with a section highlighting the ‘early years’ of his career, but as a player whose projections have altered so drastically as of late, it seems appropriate.

A major reason why Jack Eichel has previously never been considered among some of the best young NHL stars is because of his injury history. After his rookie season where he put up 56 points through 81 games, he missed 36 games throughout the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, despite putting up near point-per-game numbers.

Jack Eichel Buffalo Sabres
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Coming off of the 2018-19 season where he was named Buffalo’s youngest captain in franchise history, Eichel finished with a solid 82 points in 77 games. This season the former second-overall pick has turned it up to a whole other level, currently sitting sixth in the league in scoring and is on pace for a career-high 51 goals and 108 points.

Jack Eichel has also made more of an impact during his time on the ice than ever before. According to Natural Stat Trick, last season Eichel finished 14th on the Sabres in Corsi for percentage, and has now jumped to seventh despite having the second-highest ice time among players above him.

Eichel’s Case for MVP

Jack Eichel has been able to do more with less than any of the other Hart Trophy candidates this season. Connor McDavid has Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon has Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have each other, but Eichel has nobody remotely close to the talent of these players.

Eichel currently leads the Sabres in points with 51, and the closest players to him in scoring are rookie Victor Olofsson, who is 17 points behind him, and Sam Reinhart, who is 21 points behind him. It is also worth mentioning that both of these players are his linemates, and with Eichel’s dominant offensive play this season, that is surely not a coincidence.

Besides the significant individual skill gap that Buffalo has relative to the teams of the other Hart Trophy candidates, what sets Eichel’s individual production apart from the rest is how crucial he is to the Sabres’ success.

There is arguably nobody more valuable to their team than Jack Eichel is to the Sabres, and the advanced stats during his recent phenomenal 17-game point streak show it:

In addition to these staggering numbers, Jack Eichel also leads the Sabres in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and Goals Above Replacement (GAR) by a significantly large margin. WAR measures an individual player’s impact on the team’s wins relative to a replacement-level player, while GAR measures an individual player’s impact on goals scored compared to a replacement-level player. According to Evolving-Hockey, Eichel currently sits at 12.8 in GAR, which is eighth in the entire league, with Rasmus Ristolainen being second on the Sabres with 4.2. Eichel also sits at 2.2 in WAR, which is ninth in the entire league, above Ristolainen’s 0.8, who’s second on the team.

Final Thoughts

The scariest part when watching and analyzing Jack Eichel’s play this season is that he can, and will, get better. While still producing offensively at an MVP caliber rate, there are many defensive aspects to his game that can easily be fixed and come with maturing as a player in the NHL.

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If the Sabres are to make the playoffs this season, then there is no doubt that Eichel should win the Hart Trophy. Currently sitting sixth in the top-heavy Atlantic Division, and with the recent loss of Jeff Skinner, the Sabres have a tough, but attainable opportunity ahead of them as they try to make a push for their first postseason appearance since 2011.

The way this season has gone for the Sabres, a large amount of their future success and playoff hopes rely on the play of Eichel, and that, by definition, is what valuable is.