Bylsma praises ‘elite’ Eichel, cites experience of coaching star players

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Sidney Crosby is a star. So is Evgeni Malkin.

Jack Eichel might become one too and, if he does, there’s a chance it’ll be under the tutelage of new Sabres bench boss Dan Bylsma — the same guy Crosby and Malkin called coach for six years.

“You understand immediately the spotlight that is on those types of players, the star quality players,” Bylsma said on Thursday of his experience coaching elite talent. “I think you understand the pressure they’ll be going through, the analysis and the little eyes on them from just about everybody.

“I probably learned as much from working with those players — Sidney and Evgeni — as they learned from me. I think it’s going to be applicable to the likes of Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, who are going to be viewed in that same light, that same scope that star players are put into.”

Eichel, barring a remarkable turn of events, will become Sabres property when they select second overall at this June’s entry draft. Dubbed a generational talent, Eichel is one of the most ballyhooed prospects in recent memory and while Bylsma’s experience coaching young stars (Crosby was 21 when they won a Cup together in Pittsburgh, Malkin was 22) is important, so too is his experience with the Boston University phenom — Bylsma was Eichel’s assistant coach at the recently-wrapped World Hockey Championships, where the two combined to capture bronze with Team USA.

“Having coached [Eichel] at the World Championships, you have a chance to see a guy who’s going to be an elite player,” Bylsma explained. “He’s got outstanding skill.

“You see him play against men, a lot of NHL players he matched up against — Malkin when we played against Russia, Tomas Plekanec when we played against the Czechs. He’s playing against NHL players and he stacked right up there with his skill, his size and his ability to play the game.”

Bylsma then broke into a smile.

“Jack’s going to be a good pick for anybody who does take him.”

Aside from Eichel, Buffalo has other talented youngsters for Bylsma to teach, like Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko. “Teach” really is the key word here; in explaining why he hired Bylsma, Sabres GM Tim Murray said the 44-year-old had all the necessary skills to educate the kids through the ongoing rebuild.

“[He’s a] great communicator,” Murray explained. “Obviously we’re going to be a young team, and we need somebody that knows how to teach, knows how to communicate. It’s not just telling someone what to do — it’s why they have to do that. There aren’t a lot of coaches that can do that, and I think Dan is one that can.

“We can talk about Xs and Os and all that later. It’s communication, it’s teaching, it’s understanding young people, understanding what they’re going through. I think he’s very good at those aspects of the game.”