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This has to suck for Jack Eichel.
He’s been in the NHL for two seasons. The first season saw the Buffalo Sabres finish with 81 points, third-worst in the conference, ahead of two teams in the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs that were tanking as hard as the Sabres did when they landed Eichel in the 2015 NHL Draft.
This season, the Sabres have 66 points. That’s fourth-worst in the conference, but the good news is that they’re slightly ahead in points percentage (.500) than last season’s pace (.494).
What sucks for Eichel, though, is that a special offensive season is going to waste.
As Evan Sporer noted on Sunday night, Eichel is a top-10 point producer since making his debut on Nov. 29 after recovering from injury.
That’s a hell of a season right there.
What sucks for Eichel is that the Sabres are a rotten team. Sure, the forced parity in the NHL puts them just five points out of the wild card despite a minus-24 goal differential — and that’s with Robin Lehner carrying this defense like he’s wearing a [expletive] Baby Bjorn — but barring a Blue Jacketian streak of dominance, they aren’t breaking the tape at the end of this race. And as they showed in their loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday night, in which they blew a 3-0 lead, they don’t have the stuff to make that happen.
“We play aggressive in the first, and then sit back and they take it to us in the second and the third. It’s the tale of every game we’ve played in the last few. Nothing changes. We blew another lead,” said Eichel after the game, spitting venomous truth.
“We played a good first period, got away from what we did, and that’s the tale of the story. It seems like it’s a reoccurring theme with us right now.”
The “tale of the story,” as it were, is that Jack Eichel is going to be on the outside of the playoffs as a freshman and a sophomore. “Same thing’s happened a few times in the last few weeks just about blowing leads,” he said. “That’s why we find ourselves out of the playoffs.”
What sucks for Eichel is that his peers are all leveling up while he’s idling.
Connor McDavid, No. 1 in 2015, is going to make the playoffs and probably win his first Art Ross and his first Hart Trophy. Mitch Marner, No. 4 in 2015, and Zach Werenski, No. 8, are both looking like they’re going to break their playoff maidens. Auston Matthews, No. 1 in 2016 and Eichel’s rival for Best Young Forward In The U.S., could make the playoffs and win the Calder. Patrik Laine, last year’s No. 2, is still in the playoff mix and not only has the Calder in sight but the Rocket Richard.
The Sabres’ offseason is going to be a fascinating one. The fate of Dan Bylsma. The fate of Evander Kane. How Tim Murray uses the estimated $24 million in Terry Pegula money he’ll have under the cap.
But ultimately, all we want is for Jack Eichel to be in an actual playoff race, or actually in the playoffs. He’s too good to be stranded in Young Superstar Non-Playoff Purgatory. Although it’s nice that Taylor Hall has someone to talk to.
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