Jack Eichel is on the precipice of a monster season.
Everybody knows it.
It’s axiomatic, it’s palpable.
The young phenom had more than a respectable season last year, but it was cut short due to a devastating high-ankle sprain injury the day before the season opener. Still, in 61 games Eichel showed why he’s been accorded the title “generational talent.”
57 points in 61 games is fantastic output for any NHL player, let alone a 20-year old sophomore in the league. Couple that stat with a .93 points per game (good for 11th in the league), Eichel showed a marked improvement from his rookie season. He played in 20 fewer games, yet finished with one more point. There’s no question that his ankle was not 100 percent either.
So what does a third season look like for Jack? Well, according to NHL analyst Kevin Weekes, “anything less than 75 points is not enough.” This is not an unreasonable assumption at all. He may even hover around 85 to 90 points based on a couple very important variables such as his health and the team that surrounds him.
How many goals does Jack Eichel score this season?
— BuffaloHockeyCentral (@BHCdotcom) October 1, 2017
Based on his own trajectory, Eichel should have a dominant season. Additionally, there are plenty of other reasons and incentives as to why he will have a breakout campaign.
Eichel’s future can also be contrasted with that of other elite, young NHL stars. He will always be in the shadow of Connor McDavid, for obvious reasons. There are, though, a few other young guns starting to steal the spotlight. Players like Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Leon Draisaitl are asserting themselves as some of the most exciting players in the game.
Draisaitl, funny enough, actually beat Eichel out by 0.005 in points per game – which led to Jack missing out on a $2 million bonus. Of course he brushed it off, but it undoubtedly serves as some extra fuel to the fire. When asked about being a point-per-game player, Eichel plainly responded, “I wasn’t though.”
Eichel doesn’t keep a constant eye on exactly what McDavid is doing or worry about whether Matthews and the Maple Leafs are better than himself and the Sabres.
He’s worried about himself. If you ask Jack, if he thinks he has reached his potential yet, the answer would be a resounding ‘no’. Eichel believes he can be much better: “I think that I haven’t scratched the surface of where I can be, but I played pretty good at times.”
On the opening day of Training Camp, he echoed this sentiment.
“I think I have a lot to prove. Actually I think I’ve proven nothing, so it’s a huge year for me personally and as a team. We want to take the next step as a team, and for us to do that, we need some guys to take the next step as players, and I need to be one of them. I just need to step up around the room, on the ice, big situations for my team, and do more and prove that I can be our go-to guy.” – Eichel
Everyone remembers his locker day cleanout from last season as well. He was visibly distraught. His short quips with the media gave us an up close and personal look at just how much he hates losing. He’s also asserting himself as a leader on this Sabres team.
In every game this preseason, he has worn the “A” on his sweater. Not only that, he’s been the unquestionable top-line center and even found himself on the penalty kill. Yes, the preseason is meaningless and a small sample size, but Jack’s performances foreshadow some positive things to come.
Phil Housley and the Sabres may even have found themselves with a solidified first line. It’ll make die hard fans gush with nostalgia and joy to see Jason Pominville on the top line with Eichel. In one preseason game Pominville scored two goals, both assisted by Jack:
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) September 20, 2017
Eichel is ready to take the next step this coming season. He’s established himself as the face of the franchise. It shouldn’t be surprising if he finishes in the top five in scoring this season. It also shouldn’t come as a shocker if he dons the “C” by opening night or some time this season. The most important thing he can do, though, is help jettison the Sabres into the playoffs. McDavid did it; Matthews did it. It’s now Jack’s turn.