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Eichel on Sabres' preseason opener: 'The start of something new'

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The checkmarks keep getting added to Jack Eichel's ledger. The draft. His pro contract. Development camp. The Prospects Challenge. Training camp scrimmages. And now, tonight in XCel Energy Center, his first NHL preseason game.

Although the Buffalo Sabres' game against the Minnesota Wild has no grand meaning as the first of seven preseason contests, the team's No. 1 draft pick certainly understands there's still some milestone feeling to it.

"It's another step for us as a group," Eichel said after today's pregame skate. "It's exciting, our first preseason game, the start of something new. I think we're all looking forward to it. I know myself personally I'm looking foward to it. I want to get out there, work hard and compete and do the things that made me successful."

(Repeating because I keep getting asked on Twitter: The game is not televised nor is it available in any online stream. It is a radio-only affair on WGR. It is the same for Wild fans here in Minnesota -- no TV, no stream, radio-only).

As he has over the weekend, Eichel will center Matt Moulson and Zemgus Girgensons on what will be Buffalo's top line tonight (Evander Kane, Ryan O'Reilly and Tyler Ennis are not on this trip).

"Every day you work with them, it gets better and that's just part of it," Eichel said. "I never played with them so it's something new playing with two new guys. It's still really early but every day we're on the ice together I think we're developing something.

"You learn what type of player they are, where are they going to be. They're probably thinking the same: Where am I going to be on the ice? It all comes together the more you play with someone and the more you get used to them."

New coach Dan Bylsma saw plenty of Eichel during the World Championships in May prior to getting the Sabres' gig and knows how much of  a catalyst he can be.

"Jack is a player who doesn't need a lot of support," Bylsma said. "He can carry the puck and he can have the puck on his stick. He doesn't necessarily need a player that has speed on his wing. He's going to be able to carry the puck, have it on his stick in the offensive zone."

Bylsma said he likes the line because Moulson's best work comes within 20 feet of the net, exactly where Eichel can feed him, and Girgensons can provide support along the wall, in the faceoff circle and with defensive zone responsibilities.

Girgensons admitted he's interested to see how the chemistry develops as well.

"That's one of the main things with new guys. You learn how they play, where they will be in all different kind of situations," Girgensons said. "That's what makes lines really good -- where they know not even looking where the other guy is going to be. That's a big thing to get."

Through three days of camp, Girgensons is sufficiently impressed with Eichel.

"His head is always up," he said. "He sees his reads, reads the ice super well. That's a great thing to have. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does tonight."

For his part, Girgensons is anxious for tonight's game, because it's his first since suffering a season-ending broken foot last February in Columbus.

"I'm a little nervous of course," Girgenson said. "I haven't played a real game in a long, long, long time. For me, it's a fresh start too. I'm excited to be out there."

From the skate, the Sabres' lines are Moulson-Eichel-Girgensons, Deslauriers-Larsson-Foligno and Carrier-Varone-Bailey. Also here are Matt Ellis, Justin Kea, Jean Dupuy and Vaclav Karabacek. The defense pairings are Jake McCabe-Cody Franson, Brady Austin-Mike Weber and Brendan Guhle-Mark Pysyk. Chad Johnson starts in goal.

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