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For Jack Eichel, payback is an assist

It’s easy to imagine what dinner is like at Matt Moulson’s house. His wife asks Jack Eichel to pass her the biscuits. His kids ask Eichel to pass them their sippy cups. Moulson asks Eichel to pass him the puck.

“Every night at dinner, that’s what he says,” Eichel said with a grin.

If things go as well as the duo hopes, the Sabres’ opponents won’t find that joke funny at all. Folks in Buffalo, though, will eat it up.

The off-ice camaraderie is already evident for Eichel and Moulson, who are spending plenty of time together. Eichel has moved into the Moulsons’ home in Amherst, and early signs indicate it is one big, happy family.

“He’s a great kid,” Moulson said. “You ask people about someone to try and get a feel for them before you meet them, and I think it was instant chemistry off the ice. I hope it transfers on the ice.

“He’s great with my family, my kids and my wife, and he really is a great kid with a big heart.”

Moulson insists it was an easy decision to invite Eichel into his home for the 18-year-old’s rookie season. First of all, the Moulsons have plenty of space in the five-bedroom, 5½-bath estate. Secondly, Moulson has a wife who understands the life of a professional hockey player. Alicia Moulson’s father, Mike Backman, played for eight seasons, including parts of three with the New York Rangers.

She had no hesitation about adding another “kid” to the group that includes 3-year-old Mila and George, who will turn 2 next month.

“To be honest, it wasn’t something we thought about long at all,” said Matt Moulson. (Alicia was unavailable for comment.) “It’s a young kid that maybe would benefit from living with a family. My wife, she takes care of me a lot so she’s always looking for someone else to take care of as well. She’s a person that has a big heart.

“Her family is something that is very important to her, so taking Jack in was an easy decision.”

Eichel expressed some hesitation after getting the offer.

“I had heard a lot of really good things about him, but I had never met him,” Eichel said. “He congratulated me along with a lot of the other players on the Sabres after getting drafted. Soon after that, he reached out to me and offered me to stay with him.

“It took me awhile to get back to them and tell them that’s what I wanted to do. It’s tough for me to commit to something like that prior to making the team. I didn’t want to tell him I would be living with him until I made the team, and that’s still the situation. I have to earn that, and I’m just trying to do that.”

With the possible exception of Eichel, everyone in Sabreland knows the center will make the team. The organization is happy he will go to the Moulsons’ home when he leaves the rink.

“I just kind of look back to when I was 18,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “I don’t know what it was like when you were 18, but my first year pro was 21 when I was in the East Coast League. I lived with a family then, and it was a good thing.

“Jack, he’s a young kid. If he makes this team he’s going to be on his own at 18, 19 years old. It’s a good thing for him to be living with a stable environment, living with a family.”

Bylsma has wasted no time linking the duo on the ice, too. Eichel is right-handed, so his easiest pass is to the left. That’s where left wing Moulson will be.

“He thrives at being around the net and at the cage,” Bylsma said. “That’s where he’s his best at. With his speed, Jack’s going to be able to get the puck there and deliver it to him.”

Moulson has historically thrived alongside housemates. He lived with John Tavares in teammate Doug Weight’s guest house during their first season with the New York Islanders. They clicked off the ice (Tavares is Mila’s godfather) and on (Moulson scored 118 goals as Tavares’ go-to winger).

“He’s had a lot of success in the NHL,” Eichel said. “We have some pretty good chemistry off the ice because we spend a lot of time together. I’m thinking that will translate to on the ice. It usually does.”

Moulson is coming off his worst season with just 13 goals in 77 games. The addition of Eichel has rejuvenated the 31-year-old, who is entering the second season of a five-year deal with the Sabres.

“He’s got that youthful energy about him that kind of flows through me, I guess,” Moulson said. “I think it’ll be a really fun year.”

It’ll be extremely fun if Eichel feels at home on the ice as he does at Moulson’s house.

“It says a lot about him and his family and his wife to reach out to me and give me that opportunity,” Eichel said. “You learn a lot from him. If you know Matt at all, he handles himself on and off the ice so well, just how he goes about his business day-to-day.

“As a young guy coming in, it’s someone you can look up to and really learn the ropes from.”

email: jvogl@buffnews.com

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