When Jack Eichel was a rookie back in 2015 his first game against his hometown Boston Bruins was quite memorable. It was the day after Christmas and it was the first meeting of the season between the two teams.
Boston went into the third period ahead 2-1 and increased their lead to two goals about seven minutes in. Buffalo would counter with three goals in a 4:23 span to take the lead with Eichel scoring the middle goal to tie the game. He would add an empty-netter from 150' away with less than two minutes to go and fed Ryan O'Reilly for another empty net goal to add emphasis in the Sabres 6-3 win. For Eichel it was two goals, two assists and the game's first star while leaving an indelible mark on the TD Garden crowd.
It's been rough and rocky travelling for Eichel and the Sabres in the years between that game and the one last night. In the 10 games he's played in versus Boston during that span he had only one goal, two assists and was a minus-11 with his team going a paltry 2-6-2. Those Buffalo teams were also struggling both on and off the ice while Eichel was battling injuries and inconsistencies. As they floundered and Eichel struggled, his status amongst the top young players also dropped. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft was being pushed down the young superstar totem pole as Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine and others, at times, took spots ahead of him in various rankings.
Those three young players mentioned all had breakout seasons while Eichel had yet to have his and even at the beginning of this season the newly named Sabres captain wasn't putting up the types of numbers that would command a spot in the upper-echelon of young guns. The good news in 2018-19 is that the 22 yr. old was putting up assists and Buffalo was winning. The (relative) bad news for him is that he was having trouble putting the puck in the net.
But a funny thing happened along the way. Eichel entered the Toronto game earlier this month with 29 assists, tied for eighth-best in the league, but had only five goals with his 34 points tying him for 28th in the league. His team was down 2-1 to the Maple Leafs and he sent a one-timer into a gaping net for his first goal in seven games. It wasn't exactly an Alex Ovechkin-type, lethal blast but it got the job done and it opened up the floodgates.
Eichel would finish with two goals against Toronto, he would follow that up with another two in his next game and he would add another pair of two-goal games over this past weekend. In his past six games Eichel has scored nine goals and added four assists, but perhaps most impressive was what he was able to do this weekend on a back-to-back in two hostile environments.
On Satruday Eichel opened the scoring at Washington and then tied it at 2-2 in a game the Sabres would eventually lose in the shootout. The very next night he would scorch his hometown Bruins at TD Garden as Buffalo rolled to a 4-2 victory. The North Chelmsford, Massachusetts native tallied two goals and added two assist while dominating the game.
"He's just brought his game to another level, especially under the circumstances tonight too," coach Phil Housley told the gathered media after the Boston game. "Like tonight, he played 24, 25 minutes last night (against Washington,) comes back and plays almost 20 minutes tonight and plays at both ends. He's attacking the game with speed offensively. He's reloading with meaningful strides coming back into our zone. He's playing a 200' game, a very complete game right now."
Captain Jack led his Sabres to three out of a possible four points over the weekend with a back-to-back on the road against two very tough teams. The win last night against a division rival represented a four-point swing in the standings and moved the Sabres into second place in the division now six points ahead of the Bruins and one point ahead of the Maple Leafs. With 13 points in his last six games Eichel now has 45 points on the season, tying him for sixth in the league. His 31 assists place him fifth while his 14 goals have gotten him onto Page-1 of the NHL's goal leaders (T-33rd.)
This is the player that scouts raved about heading into a 2015 draft and it was that type of skill-set that had many using the top two prospects in the same breath hence, "McEichel." McDavid and Eichel are two different players, as are Matthews and Laine, but what they all bring to the ice is pure talent. We've seen what those other players have been able to do and have seen many instances of that upper-echelon talent from Eichel as well, dating back to that Boston game in 2015. However we've yet to see it on this scale for an extended stretch like this. It was always there waiting to explode, but it just took a little while and he run he's on now has him back in the conversation with those players.