game-tying and game-winning goals
late in the third period of his first home
game of the season against the Rangers
on December 1. The KeyBank Center
crowd was full of thousands of Rangers
fans who no doubt bought cheap tickets in the lackluster secondary market
because of Buffalo’s poor start. But the
roar when Eichel banked in the game-winner with 5: 32 to play in the third
was the loudest the building has heard
The Buffalo Sabres are still not very
competitive. They need a few better
defenseman, and their young players
need time to figure out how to win. The
Bills are still a mediocre mess. That
doesn’t look like it will be fixed anytime soon. Neither team is particularly
good, but, with Jack Eichel, the Sabres
look like they can finally get and stay
competitive for a long time. That’s why
fans are excited, and that’s why general
manager Tim Murray will do everything
in his power to make sure he doesn’t
walk away on July 1.
Right now, it’s clear that Jack Eichel
is Buffalo’s best shot at not hating our-
selves for having hope.
No pressure, kid.
Ryan Nagelhout is a writer and editor of children’s
books as well as a freelance sportswriter.
make sports so interesting, and the rea-
sons why those who do those things are
Eichel is great because he picks up a
loose puck in the corner and waits for a
defender to engage him before making
a pass. He waits, because he knows he’s
stronger on the puck than the defender,
and, by drawing him in, a teammate is
now free to take a pass Eichel can still
make under duress.
His ability to make those simple passes that hit players leaving the defensive
zone in stride is the first step to breaking the neutral zone traps that litter
today’s game and keep mediocre teams
in control and scoring low. In year two
of his NHL career, Eichel’s passing still
feels underrated—so few players in the
league can find space to hit teammates
with tape-to-tape passes.
Most important, a player like Jack
Eichel gets fans in Buffalo excited about
hockey again. Sabres home crowds have
been lackluster for years, and there
isn’t some complex algorithm needed
to explain why. The teams were bad.
The hockey was boring. People will
get loud about hockey in Buffalo again
when there’s something to get excited
When Eichel returned to Buffa-
lo, so did the cheers. He scored the
the team was bad enough to draft them
both second overall.
There is no athlete in Buffalo sports
quite like Jack Eichel. That’s why it was
disappointing when the center sprained
his ankle in practice just before the
2016-17 season began. After an encouraging rookie year, he missed the first
twenty-one games of his sophomore
campaign. Without him, the Sabres
declined. Injuries mounted, and the
team was last in the NHL in goals per
game. It all felt and looked very familiar,
except this time it wasn’t on purpose.
Eichel played his first game of the
year on November 29 in Ottawa. Six
minutes into the game, he set up a Kyle
Okposo goal on a cross-ice pass that cut
through the Senators’ defensive box.
Three minutes later, he scored a goal
no one else on the team can—a wicked one-timer along the left half wall on
the power play. The twenty-year-old is
the only Sabre who has a release on his
shot quick enough to take that pass and
rifle it past both a defenseman and the
The impact of a player like Jack
Eichel on a hockey team is incalculable.
Goals are a good place to start, sure,
but the subtle things he can do add up
to more than the sum of his statistics.
So often we forget the small skills that