MONTREAL – The media scrum is around Jack Eichel. It’s always around Jack Eichel. With good reason. He entered Wednesday night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre second in rookie points with 34. The All-American college hockey kid has created some dazzling highlights and filled reporters’ notebooks with his thoughts about his first year as a pro hockey player.
While Eichel gets the spotlight, Sam Reinhart quietly goes to work. The other rookie forward for the Sabres has been putting together his own special season. Part of that may benefit from Eichel taking the lion’s share of attention.
“I think he’s had the benefit of going under the radar a little bit,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said Wednesday after his team’s morning skate. “There wasn’t a big story about Sam. There hasn’t been a big story about Sam. We’ve seen him really improve his game. He’s on pace to score what could be 20-23 goals.
That would “end up being a pretty darn good season for anybody, scoring that many goals,” Bylsma said. “And I think he’s done it under the radar. Doesn’t have the dramatic story. Doesn’t have the spotlight but turning into a big part of our team and a big part of scoring on our team.”
Reinhart returned to the Sabres lineup after missing three games with an injury.
Coupled with the All-Star break, the 20-year old was chomping at the bit to get back on the ice.
“It seems like I haven’t been around the guys in quite some time,” Reinhart said. “It’s nice to get back into it. … I feel like I’m at my best right now even though I’m just coming back from a little bit of time off. I’ve been itching to get back for a while now.”
Reinhart’s return reunites him with Ryan O’Reilly. Bylsma likes to find combinations of pairs to build his lines around and while Reinhart’s work, especially in front of the net on the power play, will help generate some offense for the Sabres, his work with O’Reilly should help get the veteran back in the points column as well.
“They’ve been a pair and a duo for most of this year and I think Ryan’s kind of been with different pairs, different lines the last five or six games. It’s been a factor for him and his play,” said Bylsma as O’Reilly has gone nine games without a goal. “I think getting Sam back there will be a big help to Ryan’s line and for Sam … where he’s been his best since the start of the season for us has been the net front. He’s been our best net-front guy and that shows up largely on the power play where he can get back in there and be effective for us.”
Reinhart, who entered the game with 10 of his 12 goals on the road, said he loves playing with O’Reilly.
“He’s so smart,” Reinhart said of O’Reilly. “I feel if I play fast and get myself in the right position, he’s going to find me. I owe a lot of my progression this year to playing with him and working with him.”
The compliments are mutual.
“He’s a smart player that can improve any lineup,” O’Reilly said of Reinhart. “He’s a guy that’s very versatile and can play with anyone. You can find chemistry with him because he’s so smart. He sees the game so well that for me it’s a pleasure to play with. He’s always in the right area. He supports the puck in the right spots. He finds openings. He creates.”
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The Sabres are looking for a punch to their offense. That won’t likely come from Nicolas Deslauriers. The fourth-liner returned to the lineup after he broke his foot blocking a shot on Jan. 2. That’s the kind of play he makes – the hard-nosed hockey play.
He has three goals this season but his passion for the game and his ability to make life miserable for the other team is an important intangible to the Sabres’ bench.
“We definitely need it. The passion and intensity he plays with, it’s tough to play against,” O’Reilly said. “I know first-hand playing against him, you’re always looking over your shoulder. ‘Where is he?’ He finishes every check. There’s never an easy shift he gives other teams. That’s something that will wear a team down.”
His teammates call Marcus Foligno “Moose” and inspired by that, the Sabres will be selling Marcus Moose stuffed toys at Thursday’s game. The stuffed moose is $25 and proceeds will benefit SABAH. The stuffed animal also comes with an autographed Marcus Foligno trading card. They will be for sale in both wings of the 100 Level pavilion starting at 5 p.m. while supplies last. Any remaining will be available at 10 a.m. Friday at the Sabres store.
The Buffalo Sabres and Roswell Park Cancer Institute announced a collaboration called “One Goal: Inspire Cancer Cures” to run over the next five seasons. The initiative includes a broad-based educational campaign to give fans guidance on cancer risk, prevention and research. Roswell Park will provide tips on cancer prevention, early detection and risk reduction at First Niagara Center. To kick off the program, a free prostate cancer screening event is being planned for March 24 at First Niagara Center.