On a beautiful 80-degree day in downtown Buffalo, hundreds of hockey fans skipped the sunshine to get a look at Jack Eichel. They welcomed him with loud roar Monday afternoon when his skates first hit the ice in First Niagara Center.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “It was definitely kind of a special moment.”
The No. 2 overall draft pick has spent plenty of time in Western New York during the last six weeks. He wasn’t surprised to see folks taking pictures or hear them cheering for him during the first day of Sabres development camp.
“Not in Buffalo,” Eichel said. “I figured there would be a lot of people here with the practice open to the public. I’m not surprised at all at the turnout.”
The Sabres’ seven-day camp runs through Sunday, and the opening day featured simple passing and shooting drills.
“We don’t really know each other that well,” Eichel said. “A little bit unfamiliar and a little bit uncomfortable. You get out there on the ice and you have new gloves on, maybe new pants. Everyone’s kind of a little bit hesitant at first, but I think as the week goes on people start to loosen up and get more comfortable around everyone, and I think that’s when everyone starts playing their best hockey.”
Sabres General Manager Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma watched from the stands as the players went to work. They all want to impress the organization, but each player has different objectives. For Eichel, his goal is to get acclimated to the organization.
“Coach Bylsma had his meeting earlier in the day with everyone and going over things that he wants us to be doing, just little things, working to become a pro each day,” Eichel said. “I want to get a lot stronger, so right at this point in the summer I’m working on putting some weight on, I guess, and just getting stronger off the ice.
“In terms of on the ice, just playing away from the puck, just being ready no matter if I have the puck, if I don’t, moving my feet when I don’t have it, getting to top speed, catching pucks at top speed. That way the defenders have a lot less of a chance to react to me.”