Jack Eichel has taken his game into a new stratosphere this season. In his fourth year in the league, Eichel has put all the tools together, making him one of the most unique players in the NHL.
Eichel’s Toe Drag
The toe drag is one of the most common moves attempted in hockey. For the amount of players who attempt the move, none make it look easier than Eichel.
Here’s a look at his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a highlight reel play that started with a perfectly executed toe drag. Watch how far Eichel extends the puck, baiting Kevin Shattenkirk to fish for it. This is in part due to his long stick, which allows him to carry the puck in front of him much further than most.
As soon as Eichel notices Shattenkirk beginning to reach out with his stick and turn his hips towards him, the puck is immediately pulled towards his body. At this point, Shattenkirk knows he’s in trouble, and he desperately reaches behind him with his stick. This is the most impressive part, as Eichel’s long reach allows him to pull the puck so far into his body that the Lightning defender has no chance to poke it free.
Another key part of this play is his edge work. Watch carefully when Eichel pulls the puck towards him at the back end of the move. His left skate is almost completely open as he’s twisting his body to give himself more room to operate. It happens in one fluid motion that looks so natural for him.
To cap things off, Eichel brilliantly outwaits the Lightning goaltender, tucking it into the open net. We often get lost in the moment, praising the Sabres captain for his wonderful moves. When you look more carefully, it’s even more amazing to see the intricacies of what makes his toe drag so unique.
Many NHLers have a formidable shot, and we often focus on the quick release and sheer velocity. Eichel has a sniper’s shot, although there are subtle differences to it.
I’ll go back to a goal he scored against the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this season. The first thing to notice here is that Eichel catches the puck in stride. Victor Olofsson makes an intelligent play to bank the pass off the boards behind Eichel so that he can skate into it. It doesn’t even seem like he’s skating that fast, but the long strides quickly give him the separation to release the shot.
All Eichel does is receive the puck on his backhand, pull it to his forehand, and release it. At high speed there’s zero time to fumble with the puck, it has to be on and off the stick as fast as possible.
The reception, along with the simple handling of the puck, all lead up to the release. I’ll go back to his stick once again, as it plays a huge role in the way he shoots. He uses an extremely long stick for a forward, which, in theory, makes it more whippy and allows him to snap the puck quickly, which we see with this goal.
In terms of the actual shot, Eichel often shoots the puck off of one skate, as seen here. What separates his shot is his hand placement. Pay attention to how close together his hands are at the top of his stick. It allows him to make the release even quicker, and could not be done with a shorter stick.
Of course, how could I forget the shot placement: Top cheddar, over the blocker. A thing of beauty.
Eichel Is One of a Kind
When you watch Eichel play, it’s difficult to compare him to any other player. His long strides and effortless ability to move around the ice is second to none. In his four years of professional hockey, Eichel’s style has not varied much, but he has fine-tuned the craft. Partner this with an aggressiveness that has increased each season and you get a player who is single-handedly willing his team to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Boston University product is on pace to shatter his career-best 82 points from last season, and is making a strong case for the Hart Trophy. His unique characteristics are just the tip of the iceberg as his skillset continues to expand. He may not receive the hype that surrounds Connor McDavid, but the second-overall pick is stepping out from behind the shadow of the only player selected before him, and fans are taking notice.