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Rodrigues creating his own identity

It’s difficult to talk about Evan Rodrigues without talking about Jack Eichel.

The two only played together at Boston University for one year. Eichel was the American phenom who spent his freshman season in the national spotlight. Rodrigues was the gritty kid from Toronto who was surviving a rollercoaster of results with the Terriers and looking to make a statement his senior year.

On the top line for BU they came within a goal of winning the national championship, falling to Providence, 3-2, in the title game.

The duo is together again, playing on the top line for the Buffalo Sabres in the final game of the Prospects Challenge at First Niagara Center Monday night.

While Rodrigues may have his story intertwined with Eichel, he’s creating his own identity on the ice and putting himself in a solid position for next week when the Sabres officially open their NHL training camp.

“Obviously you always want to be your own player,” Rodrigues said. “At the same time me and Jack have chemistry. It’s not me feeding off him, it’s us feeding off each other and I think he’ll say the same thing if you ask him that.

“We’re both smart players and we just seem to be able to read each other and know where each other is on the ice. I think it helped both of us last year and at this prospects challenge so far.”

Indeed Eichel is quick to sing the praises of his linemate.

“He’s a pretty good player, huh?” Eichel said. “I think he flew under the radar a little bit last year in college, and I definitely think he’s making a name for himself. You can see his skill. He’s a good player, that’s for sure, and I think he’s going to show a lot of people that. … I think Evan’s out to prove he’s a better player than he gets credit for.”

While Eichel went No. 2 in the NHL entry draft, Rodrigues, a native of Toronto, was an undrafted free agent when BU’s season ended. He signed a two-year entry-level contract.

He had an impressive sophomore, finishing with 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) but then came BU’s slump when the team went just 10-21-4 and Rodrigues managed just 14 points (five goals, nine assists). That experience, however, made him a stronger player.

“After coming off a down year like that you have to tell yourself to just shake it off and move on. I think it really helped my resolve to be able to bounce back from such a down season,” Rodrigues said.

“I think my patience is one of the biggest things. Taking that extra second to make the right play and not just handing off my problem to someone else. Making sure I control the puck. Trying to make the smart play every time and I think four years of college definitely helped me and gave me a lot of confidence coming into this.”

Rodrigues usually makes the smart play – a quality that has impressed coach Randy Cunneyworth who said that the 22-year-old has a “real eye for the game.”

His skill “is evident,” Cunneyworth said. “But I think it’s his tenaciousness as well. He’s got a little grit. … We want a competitor, a guy who has the gumption where if he feels he was slighted a bit there, give a little back. I think that’s the way game is played and that’s how you get a little more room out there for the next opportunity. You don’t want to be foolish about it. … He’s got resolve. He’s not going to back down from anybody and he’s got the skill to do the damage.”

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