Sabres Fortunate Eichel Is in the Fold

Things are looking good on the farm.

As injuries continue to mount, the Buffalo Sabres’ organizational depth has been tested. With injuries to Marcus Johansson, Johan Larsson, Vladimir Sobotka and Kyle Okposo, opportunities have been offered to two Rochester Americans – Tage Thompson and Rasmus Asplund.

Asplund appeared in games against the Ottawa Senators and Chicago Blackhawks whereas Thompson was only in Sunday’s game against the Blackhawks. Both players showed themselves very well.

Buffalo Sabres’ Rasmus Asplund has begun his NHL career on a high note (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

Asplund has shown a propensity for strong faceoff abilities, not finishing below 50 percent in either game. In addition, he has shown himself to be an asset on a struggling penalty kill. He has displayed speed and fits in seamlessly with Zemgus Girgensons.

Thompson saw under seven minutes of play before having to leave with an injury. It was an extremely small sample size but based on what we saw last season, Thompson looked adequate on his line with Asplund and Girgensons. Off to such a strong start with the Americans, it’s really a shame that Thompson is now out three to five weeks with an upper-body injury.

Having depth pieces to fill out the bottom of your roster is nice, but the Sabres have something much more important going for them.

The Sabres are so fortunate to have Jack Eichel.

Eichel Critical To Sabres’ Success

It boggles the mind to think that such a significant portion of the fanbase hates Eichel the way they do. They feel as if he is to blame for the current situation of the team. His leadership is constantly questioned due to his lack of interest in “dropping the gloves”.

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

Eichel’s true value shone through last week. He terrorized the Senators to the tune of his first-ever four-goal game. On Sunday, he was the lone goal-scorer in the 4-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

Eichel has faced the league’s toughest competition since he was 18 years old. He has spent countless hours dragging inferior linemates around the rink, increasing his 82-game point pace each season. Despite centering a team that has never finished above sixth in the Atlantic Division, he continues to bring his best out each season.

Buffalo Sabres Jack Eichel
Buffalo Sabres’ Jack Eichel (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

This season, Eichel is currently on pace for 53 goals and 45 assists, totaling 98 points. While there will likely be more of a shift toward assists rather than goals, having an elite centre capable of putting up a hundred points is such a valuable commodity in today’s NHL.

For the Sabres, having Eichel is critical. The leader of this team, he currently leads all forwards in individual expected goals, blocks, takeaways and penalty differential. This is in addition to also leading the team in goals and points. He’s the largest fish in the sad, pathetic pond that is this hockey team. Even among other big fish in the league, Eichel is a keeper.

Eichel’s Place Among the League’s Elite

It is true that he’s making $10 million each season. It’s a ridiculous amount of reimbursement for playing a game to be sure – but that’s a different story. Among NHL centres he ranks sixth for what he is paid to do. According to Cap Friendly’s Cost Per Point tool, Eichel is more valuable for what he’s being paid than Steven Stamkos, Auston Matthews, Anze Kopitar, Sidney Crosby, Brayden Point, Sebastian Aho (should I continue?), Tyler Seguin, John Tavares, Evgeni Malkin and others.

In fact, the only three truly elite centres who are deemed more valuable using cost per point are Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon and some guy named Connor McDavid. This is incredibly elite company that Eichel is finding himself in.

Consider, too, that over the next couple seasons there will be new deals handed out to Elias Pettersson, Mathew Barzal and a host of other young, stud forwards. The value of Eichel’s contract will only get better as more deals are consummated and the salary cap rises.

Elias Pettersson Vancouver Canucks
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks, is in line for a massive raise (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The infamous tank of 2014-15 has caused much consternation among Sabres fans. Some feel that the tank worked while others point to where things stand now five seasons later as proof it did not. Both parties certainly don’t want to be here. The fact is, the tank guaranteed them the right, neigh, the privilege of drafting either McDavid or Eichel. As hard as things have been, imagine this team moving ahead with Dylan Strome as their number one option down the middle.

Are things as great as we want them? Absolutely not. Are they as bad as they could have been? Believe it or not, no. Eichel is a Sabre for the foreseeable future and Sabres fans have reason to rejoice.

Let’s now look at what Eichel and Co. have in store in the week ahead.

Sabres’ Week Ahead

Tuesday, Nov. 19 vs Minnesota Wild

The Sabres look to buck their trend of losing when they face a struggling Minnesota Wild team. Most are writing off the Wild as a terrible team but that’s simply not true. The team as a whole has played well. They rank sixth in the league at five-on-five score and venue adjusted expected goals for percentage (xGF%) with a 53.39xGF% according to Evolving Hockey. They are middle of the pack in terms of their team shooting percentage. What’s been bringing them down is the 27th ranked save percentage.

Minnesota Wild Devan Dubnyk
Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk has struggled this season (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Typically a strength for them, goaltending has limited the Wild to just 16 points in 20 games, good for last in the league. The Sabres will likely be outplayed by a superior puck-control game but let’s hope they can take advantage of another weak goaltending performance for the Wild.

Thursday, Nov. 21 @ Boston Bruins

Ah yes, the big, bad Boston Bruins. These games are always good. While the Bruins have been significantly better than the Sabres over the last decade, the Sabres usually play them hard, led by none other than their captain from North Chelmsford, Massachusettes. The Bruins have received similar goaltending to the Sabres this season. They are once again perched at the top of the standings. The Sabres stand a chance if they can play a similar style possession game that they did over last week’s games against the Carolina Hurricanes, Senators and Blackhawks. One thing is for certain…the Sabres would be wise to avoid the penalty box against the third-ranked power play in the league.

Sunday, Nov. 24 @ Florida Panthers

A pivotal matchup against a divisional foe, the Florida Panthers present a unique challenge to the Sabres. Even when the Panthers have had bad teams, the Sabres have always struggled to defeat them. The Panthers have gotten off to a good start this season, currently sitting in a wild card playoff position. The Panthers have actually played a similar game as the Bruins to this point, but have dealt with struggles with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Sergei Bobrovsky Florida Panthers
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If the Sabres have eyes for a playoff position, beating the Panthers in regulation should be a top priority. The Sabres would also be wise to avoid the penalty box here as the Panthers boat the league’s fourth-ranked power play.