The four words all Sabres fans have been waiting to hear have come to: Jack Eichel is back.
Eichel will make his 2016-17 regular season debut tonight in Ottawa, centering the 2nd line between Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart. He will also return to his normal position atop the 1st power-play unit.
The Boston University grad missed Buffalo’s first 21 games this year after suffering a high ankle sprain just before the regular season.
Buffalo hopes its 20-year-old franchise player can help deliver a spark to a team that has been sputtering offensively. Since the calendar flipped to November, the Sabres have scored more than two goals in a game just once in 13 attempts.
They have won some of those contests thanks in large part to some great early season goaltending. Robin Lehner currently sits with a .922 save percentage while backup Anders Nilsson has been tremendous with a GAA under two. But make no mistake, the offense needs to pick it up and getting Eichel back should expedite the process.
Not only does inserting the Massachusetts native’s skill set into the lineup immediately make the Sabres better, but it also allows everyone else to reevaluate their own roles.
“The trickledown effect of having Jack back in your lineup is I think it makes a lot of other people fit better,” Bylsma said.
Johan Larsson doesn’t have to man the power-play minutes he was playing. They don’t need to inject a Rochester call-up into the top-6 just because they need a body to fill in. Ryan O’Reilly can afford not to play his normal 22 minutes a night until he regains his wind coming back from his own injury.
It’s a domino effect. The same effect that happened when Eichel went down that led to all of these situations arising. Now they are in reversal, and into the Sabres’ favor.
There are 61 games left in the season, plenty of time for the Sabres to make that postseason run fans have been clamoring for. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Eichel put up 50 points in that span. But more importantly, he should allow all of his teammates to play a more relaxed and comfortable game, and hopefully end this scoring problem for Buffalo.