Jack Eichel

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NHL on NBCSN: Maple Leafs vs. Sabres

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a Sunday meeting between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here

The Toronto Maple Leafs will look to get back on the winning track when they face the Buffalo Sabres to end a four-game road trip on Monday, the first meeting between both teams this season.

Toronto’s trip away from Air Canada Centre hasn’t gone well, already having gone 0-1-2 coming into Monday’s game.

“It’s regroup time,” coach Mike Babcock told the Toronto Sun. “We have a Buffalo team that would be sick and tired about hearing about the Leafs. They’re going to play hard and we have to be ready to play hard. We have to get back on track.”

The Leafs don’t have much to worry about in the standings. They sit in third place in the Atlantic Division, three points back of the Boston Bruins for the second spot, 15 points ahead of the Florida Panthers, who sit in fourth in the and 11 points ahead of the New Jersey Devils for the first wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re a work in progress,” Babcock told the Toronto Star. “Washington slapped us, which goes to show you. We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the other teams. We worry about what we’re doing. If there’s something to learn from, we learn from the other teams that are doing well.”

The Leafs are still without Auston Matthews, who remains shelved with an apparent shoulder injury. Matthews leads the Leafs in goals with 28 and is second in points with 50. His presence is obviously missed. Frederik Andersen allowed five goals in a 5-2 loss against the Washington Capitals in Annapolis on Saturday. He’s allowed three or more goals in 10 of his past 12 starts.

The Sabres are in a slightly different race, sitting one-point ahead of the Arizona Coyotes in the basement of the league.

The race for the best chance at selecting Rasmus Dahlin is on.

“It would be nice to be battling with a playoff spot or be competing with them,” Sabres winger Kyle Okposo told the Buffalo News. “But any time you play Toronto it’s a little different feel and it’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to it. The building is electric, definitely fun games to play in. They’re coming off a few games they’ve probably like to have back so we know we’re probably going to get their best and we’re looking forward to it.”

The Sabres have won three of their past five.

And some good news on the Buffalo front: Jack Eichel is back skating.

Mike Harrington reported on Sunday that Eichel returned to the practice ice for the first time since suffering the second high-ankle sprain of his career on Feb. 10.

There is no timetable on Eichel’s return, but getting some games in before the end of the season is in the cards.

“That’s the goal. But you never know how these things react,” Housley said. “You don’t want to put any timeline on it but it’s good to see him skating and that’s a step in the right direction. Obviously, he wants to play some games before the end of the year.”

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Eichel hat trick, Schneider robbery, Gaborik’s 1,000th game

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Players of the Night: 

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres: Eichel ended a four-game goal-less drought with some authority on Friday. After scoring in the first period, Eichel watched as his Sabres blew a 2-1 lead to trail 4-2 with 10 minutes to go. Eichel then turned on overdrive, scoring twice in 10 seconds to tie the game and force overtime. Sadly, his efforts were in vain as the Carolina Hurricanes got the winner 2:15 into the extra frame. It’s Eichel’s first career NHL hat trick.

Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils: What an inspirational story Boyle has been this year. On Friday, Boyle scored twice, including the game winner, to bring his goal total to eight on the season. His second of the night was also his 100th of his career.

Highlights of the Night:

Eichel showed a good bit of patience on his hat trick goal:

Cory Schneider committed robbery on this save:

Sam Gagner scored on a pretty backhand deke to give the Vancouver Canucks the win in overtime, ending a four-game losing streak:

Factoid of the Night: 



Hurricanes 5, Sabres 4 (OT)

Devils 5, Stars 2

Rangers 4, Kings 2

Red Wings 3, Maple Leafs 1

Canucks 4, Sharks 3 (OT)

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jack Eichel, Connor McDavid have wrong things in common right now


As the top two picks of the 2015 NHL Draft, faces of beleaguered franchises, and recipients of eight-figure salaries starting next season, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel share a lot in common.

Sadly, though the first quarter of this campaign, their similarities mostly leave you kind of bummed out.

Sure, there are key differences, but if you paint in broad brushstrokes, the similarities are striking.

Varying degrees of blame

Look, it’s almost human nature to blame a team’s failures on its best player. The logic goes: they have the most power to change things, and they often draw the biggest checks (technically not true for McDavid and Eichel until next season), so they need to take the heat, right?

Well, maybe, but in almost every case in a team sport like hockey, it’s usually not on the best guy or even top guys on a team.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin sure seemed “in decline” for a while there, and then the Penguins brought in Phil Kessel, played to their strengths as an attacking team with Mike Sullivan in charge, and are now repeat champs.

Here’s hoping that McDavid and Eichel get some help, but with things sour for the Oilers (middle of the pack with contender aspirations) and Sabres (cellar dwellers despite dreams of big strides), the two are getting thrown under the bus at times.

The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington wrote this about Eichel, and keep in mind this was before Buffalo dropped its sixth in a row in falling short against Columbus on Monday:

Eichel has five goals in 20 games, tallying just once in his last 11. He’s got a minus-9 rating for the season. Those are the numbers. Now let’s move to things you can’t measure.

Eichel’s body language has been terrible much of season. It’s a dirty little secret fans are finally figuring out that he floats off the ice far too much on the end of his shifts.

McDavid, meanwhile, saw his defensive struggles magnified during Edmonton’s frustrating loss to the Dallas Stars this past weekend:

Oilers Nation’s Cam Lewis felt the need to defend McDavid, and he wasn’t alone. That’s how bad things are getting for fans of the Sabres and Oilers, two teams who have been through these growing pains so often, they probably wonder if the light at the end of the tunnel is actually a mirage.

Varying degrees of success

You really don’t have to dig that deep to see that McDavid and Eichel stand among a handful of Oilers/Sabres who are carrying the scoring burden for their teams.

It’s especially stark with McDavid, who has 25 points while the second-highest Oilers scorer is currently Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (who has 15). Things are a little more even among Eichel and guys that he spends much of his ice time with, like a resurgent Evander Kane, but the broader view is the same: only four Sabres skaters are above 10 points while the Oilers only have five.

Yes, you can nitpick both players at times, but that requires the willful ignorance of looking the other way on an important point: few, if any, skaters are perfect. Especially during every night of an 82-game season.

The painfully obvious truth is that both McDavid and Eichel need more help and are being asked to do far too much. Harrington made an interesting point with this tweet, as it actually might apply to McDavid more than Eichel:

Deck chairs

From my vantage point, the situation might be more dire for the Oilers than the Sabres for a few reasons.

For one, it seems like Edmonton’s management has made its bed and now must lie in it. The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis said it well (sub required) in a piece titled “There’s no retreat from the course Peter Chiarelli has plotted for the Oilers.”

Chiarelli has essentially cast his lot with the likes of Milan Lucic and Kris Russell as key supporting cast members, and that hasn’t gone well, at all. Their bad contracts and trade clauses make them difficult to move.

And, really, how much do you trust Chiarelli to get the most out of moving, say, Nugent-Hopkins after he’s left behind a trail of shaky (at best) moves during his last years in Boston and his stay in Edmonton? To a lot of fans, he’s already a punchline.


In the short-term, the Sabres’ roster probably has bigger holes. Perhaps things might change as Kyle Okposo gets healthier, but the offense is a little slim beyond Eichel, Kane, Ryan O'Reilly, and Jason Pominville (though Sam Reinhart‘s showing some signs of promise).

While Edmonton’s actually fashioned a half-decent defense for itself, Buffalo’s a mess in that regard.

That said, this is the first season of the Phil Housley – Jason Botterill regime, and they deserve time to get things together. The best thing about this situation is that, while there’s a tough deal or two like that of Zach Bogosian, it’s a fairly clean slate in Buffalo. They don’t need to cling to bad moves out of pride or even to protect their jobs like, say, the Capitals stubbornly hanging onto Brooks Orpik and letting quality players slip by.

Essentially, these two teams are on different points in the board game that is team-building. The Oilers are advancing close to that make-or-break spot, which to some extent makes it scarier to see the same old problems bubbling up.


No, their situations aren’t exactly the same, but it’s remarkable to see the parallels between Eichel and McDavid right now. You can even meme them in similar ways.

With the right mixture of luck, progression, and good management choices, maybe we can go back to focusing on the delightful things that make them similar: financial security and being absolutely spellbinding at hockey.

Right now, that’s a difficult thing to do.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Mark McGwire thinks hockey players are ‘the best athletes on the earth’


PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Retired baseball player Mark McGwire called hockey players “the best athletes on the earth.” (LA Kings Insider)

Guy Carbonneau, Marty Turco, Greg Adams, and Richard Matvichuk are among a group of Dallas Stars alumni that will take part in a charity game against the Israeli National Team. The contest will be held on Sept. 12 at the Dr Pepper Arena located in Frisco, Texas. (Dallas Morning News)

We already wrote about the top-10 players in each position as far as the ratings for EA Sports’ upcoming video game NHL 16 are concerned. From that we could determine who the game’s top rated players were, but there are a lot of players that have the same overall rating, so for example figuring out which player among those with a 94 rating was the highest wasn’t doable. Now it is though as the top-50 overall list is out. (EA Sports)

The 2015-16 Calder Trophy race might be more than just Connor McDavid vs. Jack Eichel. (Postmedia Network)

Patrice Bergeron is looking for the Boston Bruins to be more consistent this season and he thinks part of the solution is to avoid getting comfortable with a one-goal lead. (CSN New England)

Jakub Voracek will donate $1,000 for every point he records in 2015-16 to his new foundation, which seeks to help those with multiple sclerosis. (Puck Daddy)

Eichel planning to move in with Moulson


After all the hype and preparation, Jack Eichel’s debut with the Buffalo Sabres is only about a month away. Of course he still has to go through training camp and the preseason before he officially makes the team, but barring an injury or surprise turn of events, he should be playing for the Sabres in their opener on Oct. 8.

“I think it’s starting to get real,” Eichel said, per Buffalo News.

While he’s already had to deal with plenty of attention and high pressure situations, the shift to the NHL is still a major undertaking, even for players as talented as Eichel. It should help that he’ll have plenty of support, particularly from veteran forward Matt Moulson, who has opened his home to Eichel.

“I know that everyone who knows him well says great things about him,” Eichel said. “I haven’t heard a bad thing about the guy. The way he offered his house to me shows what kind of person he is. He’s a really generous guy, a good guy to be around.”

Eichel might also end up playing on a line with Moulson, although at this point that’s purely speculation. The Sabres will be entering the season with a bolstered offense after finishing last in scoring in 2014-15 and has a new coach in Dan Bylsma, so one of the interesting aspects of the Sabres’ training camp will be what lines are experimented with and which ones gel.