In recent days, the rumors surrounding Jack Eichel’s future with the Buffalo Sabres have heated up once again. There seems to be a sense that the Sabres might have to listen to offers on their franchise center, and he could be traded as soon as this summer.
For the Minnesota Wild, Eichel should to be a player they express interest in; and let’s explore why.
First-line centers do not grow on trees. They are primarily acquired through the draft, as it’s extremely rare to get one any other way. Tavares was the last superstar center to hit the market in free agency. When was the last time a first-line center was traded in his prime, maybe Tyler Seguin?
Eichel, the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft, is still only 24 years old. He will be turning 25 later this year, meaning he is just beginning the prime years of his career. He has yet to play an entire 82 game season in the NHL due to injuries, as the closest he has come is 81 games in his rookie season. Since then, he has only his 70 games in a season once.
Still, he has established himself among the league’s best. In 375 career games, Eichel has 355 points, which is a little over 0.94 career points per game (PPG). Those are incredible numbers, especially coming from a team that hasn’t had much success during the time Eichel has been there. Buffalo has struggled mightily over the past half-decade, but it’s tough to blame a 0.94 PPG player for those struggles.
His most recent injury, the one that kept him out for such an extended time this season, is where there is some concern. It seems like Eichel would like to get surgery, but the team doctors are advising against it. Indeed, if the Wild were to make an offer of Eichel, they will want to have as much information on this neck injury as possible.
How he Fits in with the Wild
There aren’t many teams a 24-year-old superstar wouldn’t fit into, but Minnesota feels like a perfect destination. The Wild’s top forwards consist of Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala, who are both wingers. Joel Eriksson Ek took significant steps forward this season, but it’s still highly unlikely he can be a top-10 center in the NHL.
The Wild need some help at the center position, and Eichel could quickly come in and change the way this team plays upfront. A prospect like Marco Rossi might be a top-line center one day, but that’s likely years down the road. Imagine Kaprizov alongside Eichel for the next half-decade! Those two together have the potential to be among the league’s top offensive duos.
Eichel also clearly wants to win. He has yet to play a single playoff game in his career, so he would be much happier going to a team that fully expects to be in the playoffs for the foreseeable future. His no-move clause doesn’t click in until after next season, so technically, any Eichel trade this summer would involve him having no say in the location. Still, the Sabres will likely listen to Eichel’s preferred destinations to some extent when exploring the trade market. The Wild fit that bill perfectly, a team with a lot of promise after just finishing top 10 in the NHL this season.
Also, not many of the top teams in the league have the cap flexibility to make a trade like this work. Eichel is making $10,000,000 a season for the next five seasons, and the Wild could make that work. Most teams in the playoffs are extremely low on cap space moving forward, but the Wild has some flexibility.
Here comes the big question; how much would it cost for the Wild to trade for Jack Eichel? A first-line center, 24 years old, who still has five years remaining on his contract. A player like that is going to come at a hefty price. Also, the Wild certainly won’t be the only team interested in Eichel. There will be numerous teams trying to acquire him, so it might end up being a bit of a bidding war.
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It’s doubtful Kaprizov would be a piece considered going back to Buffalo. The Wild will be trying to take a big step forward if they were to acquire Eichel, and after the season Kaprizov just had it’s tough to see Bill Guerin considering moving him.
The Wild’s pitch would likely consist of draft picks and prospects, with maybe a roster player or two also going to Buffalo to help the cap make sense. The Wild do own two firsts and two thirds in this year’s NHL entry draft, so moving one or maybe even both of those first-round picks might be possible.
Looking at prospects, the Sabres will surely be interested in Rossi and Matthew Boldy. It’s possible, to get a first-line center, Guerin would consider moving one. However, if the Sabres are adamant about getting both in a package for Eichel, that might be too much for the Wild to swallow.
Overall, Eichel to the Wild makes sense. They are a team looking for elite skill at the center ice position, and they might be one of the only playoff teams that have the cap flexibility to take on a contract like Eichel’s. It’s far too early to know if the Wild will be making a hard push for Eichel this offseason, but he does match what they lack on the roster.
It’s extremely rare for a player of this caliber to be traded, and the Wild will have to decide what is worth giving up for a player like Eichel.
Sports writer covering the Minnesota Wild. Graduated with a degree in sport media, also working with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.