No matter which number Jack Eichel chooses for his jersey, it will be a lucky one for sports retailers.
After several years of a ho-hum Sabres roster, pent-up enthusiasm for the team’s potential superstar center is expected to translate into booming jersey sales.
“That’s a $170 sale. It’s a big ticket,” said Joe Eckl, manager of Laux Sporting Goods at Boulevard Mall. “It nice to have some good news coming out of the Sabres camp and people getting back on the bandwagon. It’s nice to have a jersey that people are going to want again.”
Once Eichel decides on a number, Laux expects to have jerseys on shelves within 24 hours. Right now, 60 blank Sabres jerseys sit waiting at a local embroiderer. Prepped with Eichel’s name, they’re finished except for blank spaces on the front, back and sleeves, where the chosen number will be stitched as soon as it is announced. Once complete, Laux district manager Mike O’Hara will pick up the finished jerseys, divvy them up and personally deliver bundles to each of the company’s five retail stores.
To give that early start some perspective, the NHL and Reebok don’t typically ship their first big batch of jerseys until Sept. 1.
Ryan O’Reilly is expected to be another big draw. While the Sabres forward is not coming with the eyes of the entire hockey world on him, his team-record-setting seven-year contract gives fans some certainty the nearly $200 investment will have some longevity. They won’t have to worry about their player leaving in free agency before they get their money’s worth.
“Even with good players, people have a little bit of hesitation because they say, ‘Geez, I wonder if he’s gonna be here next year. If not, I’ll have another jersey sitting in my closet like the two other guys’ who are gone,’ ” Eckl said. “That has something to do with how people buy jerseys, too.”
For the past two years, the Sabres have had the worst record in the league. Die-hard fans still bought jerseys, but not at the same clip a fan favorite or hot player can inspire. Sabres jersey sales in 2014 were led by forward Zemgus Girgensons and centerman Tyler Ennis, who scored a combined total of just 35 goals last season.
After such a drought, scoring the league’s No. 2 draft pick is like money in the bank for retailers selling official team merchandise.
The last jersey-buying spree was touched off during the 2006 – 2007 season, when the team’s rollout of the new “slug” logo coincided with a 10-game winning streak. But a single Sabres prospect hasn’t been this highly anticipated in decades
Though Eichel wore number 41 at the Sabres’ Development Camp on Monday, there was no indication it would be his permanent sweater. His first choice, No. 9, is already taken by Evander Kane, and his comments at this year’s draft showed he leaned toward keeping the No. 15 that was on his back to symbolize the draft year.
“Fifteen’s a good number,” Eichel told the media that day. “I’ve worn it before. It’s my dad’s lucky number and it’s my sister’s lucky number. It happened to be the year I was drafted, so there’s a lot of significance to the No. 15.”