Like it or not, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will be forever billed and compared as rivals given the fact that the two were selected first and second respectively in the 2015 NHL draft. McDavid currently leads the NHL with 34 points in 27 games so far this season.
The young centerman appears to be as talented as advertised, and is the biggest reason for the Oilers’ turnaround this season. Though the supposed “rivalry” has been highlighted since the beginning of last season, McDavid sees things differently.
“I don’t look at him as an enemy or rival or anything like that” McDavid said. He’s a fellow young guy in the league. He’s a good guy… He’s the guy that’s always kind of the center of attention. I definitely enjoyed my time with him.”
Eichel echoed that sentiment with stating “He’s just another player.” when asked about his feelings on McDavid last season.
Edmonton will visit the KeyBank Center on Tuesday. The Sabres beat the Oilers 6-2 on October 16th in Edmonton, though the team was without Eichel. Buffalo effectively shut down McDavid during the contest, holding him pointless on the night. Though that game was a mere six weeks ago, much has changed for both teams.
Edmonton is currently in third place in the Pacific Division and rank third in the league in goals for. The Sabres have struggles and are currently last in the Atlantic. Though the two franchises rank differently in the standings, there are some noticeable similarities.
Both teams have struggled defensively, though they have compensated for that weakness in different ways. Edmonton has mitigated the issue with outstanding play on offense, much of which has to do with the outstanding campaign McDavid has put together early on.
The Sabres, have relied on stellar goaltending from both Robin Lehner and back-up Anders Nilsson (whom some fans have clamored for to receive more playing time). There is one caveat to the Sabres struggles on offense this year. They have spent most of it without Jack Eichel.
Since his return, Eichel has registered four points in three games, and appears to have injected new life into a Sabres’ season that looked to be in a downward spiral. Over the past three contests, the Sabres look like a brand new unit. The return of their franchise player has had a distinct trickle-down effect across the roster. The forward units are more cohesive, maintaining consistent pressure in the offensive zone. The power play unit has also shown improvement, going three for eight in that stretch.
The Oilers and Sabres have only faced off once before with both players in the lineup for their respective teams. That meeting took place last season with Edmonton emerging victorious with a 2-1 overtime win where McDavid registered both goals for the Oilers. Eichel was held pointless in the contest.
While there hasn’t been much debate amongst fans which player is more talented, there is no question that their success will be directly related to the improvement of their respective organizations. On one hand, the Oilers have dwelled in the league basement for years, selecting first overall in four of the past seven NHL drafts.
Despite the infusion of high-level young talent, the Edmonton have been widely criticized for mismanaging their young stars, which has kept them from improving in the standings. McDavid’s success this season has changed all of that. If the playoffs started tomorrow (a ridiculous notion, I know), Edmonton would be in a postseason spot for the first time in 10 seasons.
The Sabres have had a much shorter stint in the league basement in a calculated effort from the front office to acquire more young, top flight talent. Though the improvement is there, it has not been displayed to the extent expected by fans and pundits coming into the season.
Jack Eichel and the Sabres appear to be back on track since his return and they intend to change that rhetoric with 58 games remaining. The Sabres can show that they are indeed on the same success trajectory as Edmonton, and that all starts on Tuesday.