Per usual, early March is proving to be a relatively miserable time for fans of the Buffalo Sabres.
The team has lost seven out of their last eight games. The playoffs, which were a realistic possibility just two weeks ago, are now a pipe dream. An uneventful trade deadline day left fans bored on a day in which they should be anything but.
To put it simply – being a Sabres fan is as tough as ever. Thankfully, there has been one player that has been able to make the suffering a bit more bearable.
Jack Eichel has been a beam of light in the seemingly cracked Sabres’ roster for the past two seasons. The second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft scored his 100th career point Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, elongating his now 11-game point streak in the process.
— #HockeyWeekNBC (@NHLonNBCSports) March 8, 2017
Eichel, who was selected after the 2014-15 season (which was arguably the worst in Sabres’ franchise history), was deemed the future of the Sabres’ franchise by fans. Sabres’ supporters expected the Boston-native to turn the team around while simultaneously becoming one of the top players in the league. Thankfully, the 20-year-old has been able to deliver.
Face of the Franchise
Sabres’ fans knew what they were in for going into the 2014-15 NHL season.
Coming off of a 2013-14 season in which the team finished last in the NHL, fans expected more of the same in the new season. The roster had somehow worsened over the offseason, but fans didn’t mind. They knew that finishing last in the NHL would guarantee their selection of either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel – two generational players available in the same draft.
Fast forward to April of 2015, and fans were right. The Sabres were awful in the 2014-15 season. The team finished last in the league for a second consecutive year. Although the hockey the team played was lackluster and terrible at times, fans didn’t mind, as they knew either McDavid or Eichel would be wearing Buffalo blue and gold next season.
As the always pessimistic Buffalo fans expected, the team lost the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery, giving them the second overall pick in the 2015 draft. After the initial wave of anger and grief, fans became excited. They realized that Jack Eichel was going to become the face of their franchise.
Eichel had all of the tools that teams looked for in a franchise player. His 6-foot-2-inch frame made him the sizable center so crucial for success in today’s NHL. The Boston University Terrier was coming off of a freshman season in which he scored 71 points in 40 games, earning the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey. The forward possessed the size and skill to become elite at the next level, and Buffalo fans were excited to see him become just that in a Sabres’ sweater.
When the Sabres selected Jack Eichel with the second overall pick in the 2015 Draft on June 26th, fans knew they were in for something special. They were right.
Starting Out Strong
Going into Eichel’s rookie season, people wondered how long it would take for the teenager to score his first goal. Would it come in his first week? His first month? Try his first game.
This was just the beginning of Eichel’s stellar rookie season. Many times throughout the season, the center proved that he came with everything advertised plus more. Eichel became a game changer for the Sabres, as he possessed the ability to take over a game in crucial situations. Sabres’ fans had longed for a player like Eichel for decades, and they were finally receiving one.
The former Boston University standout finished his rookie season with 56 points, second in rookie scoring behind Blackhawks’ winger Artemi Panarin. Although Eichel was snubbed out of a Calder Trophy nomination, Sabres’ fans were ecstatic with his initial outing.
After a strong rookie season, fans expected more of the same in his sophomore outing. Although it would take a bit longer than expected, fans are now finally seeing Eichel take the next step in his development.
Proving He Is Elite
Coming off of a strong rookie season, Eichel was expected to have a superior sophomore year. Expectations dropped a bit when he obtained an ankle injury just days before the team’s first game of the season, side lining him for the initial month of the campaign.
Eichel returned with a vengeance in late November. In his first game back from injury, the 20-year-old scored two points in a 5-4 win against the Ottawa Senators. Eichel’s presence also helped the players around him. The center was originally placed on a line with Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart, placing them on hot streaks they are still on today.
The production hasn’t stopped for Eichel. In 46 game this season, the American has 45 points, averaging nearly one point per game. Recent points have come as part of Eichel’s now 11-game point streak, the longest active point streak in the NHL. It’s a realistic possibility that the former Hobey Baker Award-winner will surpass his 2015-16 point total in nearly 20 fewer games.
During Tuesday’s 6-3 loss against the Flyers, Eichel acquired the 100th point of his young career. From what we’ve seen so far, I have no doubt that this will be the first milestone of many. Although the team has been unable to match Eichel’s level of excellence, Eichel has the skill to be the catalyst the team needs in the coming seasons.
Congratulations on your first 100 points, Jack Eichel. Here’s to 100 more.