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Sabres notebook: Eichel turns to Leaf for huge memorabilia deal

TORONTO – Jack Eichel wrapped up his equipment deal last month with Bauer and that was pretty standard. But he raised some eyebrows in the collecting world by signing an exclusive contract with Leaf Trading Cards on Monday.

The NHL Players Association would certainly prefer players sign with Upper Deck, their official licensee and the sponsor of this week’s NHLPA Rookie Showcase here. But there’s no rule preventing a player of Eichel’s stature from making his own deal outside that realm.

In a nutshell, what it means for collectors is that Leaf can use Eichel’s name and license but has to wipe out any use of the Sabres’ logo or NHL trademarks. Upper Deck, meanwhile, can make any Eichel products it wants but will not have access to any autographed products as it does with rookies like No. 1 overall pick Connor McDavid. As such, Eichel did not sign the numerous products other rookies were signing here the last two days because his signature is exclusive to Leaf.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed by Leaf, other than to say it was a multi-year arrangement. The company says it’s the richest memorabilia arrangement signed with a first-year NHL player.

“The overall deal size easily eclipses any other deal for a rookie,” Brian Gray, CEO of Dallas-based Leaf, told The News by phone. “It’s more money than Connor McDavid got, more than Sidney Crosby got his rookie year. That’s a pretty bold position for a No. 2 pick to be in. We believe Eichel can be the best rookie in the class.”

The arrangement is unique because there are very few Eichel products on the market. That’s due to the fact Eichel was an NCAA player and would have lost his eligibility by getting paid. Because McDavid played junior hockey, he routinely did autograph signings.

“Jack is unique,” Gray said. “He did nothing in college because he can’t and his autograph thus really has a premium attached to it.”

“It’s been quite the last few months,” Eichel said here Tuesday. “You dream of this happening and then everything starts to fall into place and you realize it’s more of a reality. Things like that happen and people pay you for your autograph. That’s pretty neat. I’m excited about my partnership with them. It should be a good future.”

“What Leaf offered was more money for fewer signatures,” said a source familiar with the deal. “At the end of the day, he needs to focus on hockey and that was what his family wanted. His family and his agent are really taking good care of him.”

Gray said Leaf is particularly interested to see the response to Eichel products in Buffalo. A “welcome card” should be released later this month, with autographed items coming by November.

“As an American company we think it’s very interesting to have an American player,” he said. “And we love the fact it’s from the Buffalo market. That market just does not get enough credit for how rabid their fans are. It’s an underrated market to me and I can tell you that, just on the number of emails I’ve been answering since this became official.”

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The other main draw at Tuesday’s event was McDavid, who will start his career with the Oilers in a rookie tournament against Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg Sept. 11-14 in Penticton, B.C. McDavid is not focused on his season opener Oct. 8 in St. Louis, his home opener against the Blues on Oct. 15 – or his first meeting with Eichel Dec. 6 in Rexall Place.

“My main focus is getting there for training camp and having a good training camp,” McDavid said. “I’ll worry about that stuff as it comes up. Just trying to take it one step at a time and right now it’s training camp.”

“Now that the draft is over, the two of us are kind of just relaxed on the whole situation of everyone comparing us,” Eichel said. “Obviously it’s never going to end but he’s a good guy. Getting to know him is good because it feels like we’ve been linked together for a while.”

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The Sabres have finalized the practice schedule and roster for their first Prospects Challenge, which will also include prospects from the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins. All practices and morning skates will be free and open to the public, with all three teams working out on Sept. 11. The Sabres will skate from 9-11 a.m.

Tickets for the games Sept. 12-14 are $10 and can be purchased in person at the First Niagara Center Box Office, by phone at 1-888-223-6000 or online at Sabres.com. As expected, the Sabres’ roster is highlighted by Eichel and Sam Reinhart, the NHL’s last two No. 2 overall picks. The full rundown:

Forwards: Eichel, Reinhart, Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, William Carrier, Dan Catenacci, Eric Cornel, Jean Dupuy, Giorgio Estephan, Matt Garbowsky, Cason Hohmann, Colin Jacobs, Vaclav Karabacek, Justin Kea, Jack Nevins, Evan Rodrigues.

Defense: Brady Austin, Josh Chapman, Spiro Goulakos (a camp invitee from Colgate), Brendan Guhle, David Henley, Brycen Martin, Jake McCabe, Matt Prapavessis, Devante Stephens.

Goalies: Andrey Makarov, C.J. Motte and Keegan Asmundson, a camp invitee from Canisius who finished his career last season as the school’s all-time leader in goals-against average (2.08) and save percentage (.930).

The Sabres will have morning skates at 10 a.m. on Sept. 12 and Sept. 14. They meet the Devils at 7 p.m. on the first night and the Bruins at 7 p.m. in their second game. Buffalo practices Sept. 13 from 10 a.m.-noon, with the Bruins and Devils holding morning skates at HarborCenter and a game at 7 p.m. that night.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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