QUEBEC CITY -- Jack Eichel's first World Cup exhibition game was a bit of a feeling-out process as the Buffalo Sabres center seemed to survey the landscape in the first period of Team North America's 4-0 win over Team Europe.
In the second period, Eichel got more comfortable pushing the play in the offensive zone. But what stood out most was his 200-foot game, a classic example of what coach Todd McLellan talked about during practice this week in Montreal. As McLellan explained it, players will have to change roles and accept that change for this team to be successful, and that could mean offensive players doing the job defensively.
Eichel was consistently coming back hard through the neutral zone and stopped a couple of plays by hustling back in the Team North America end. During one third-period sequence, the North Americans were hemmed in their end until Eichel stole the puck and skated it out on his own. He reached the center red line, backhanded it deep into the Team Europe zone and bolted to the bench to get his team a line change and out of trouble.
"It's something I wanted to come out here and do," Eichel said after the win Thursday night in Videotron Centre. "I think the offense will take care of itself. We have a lot of guys who can score goals but it's something I want to get better at, playing more consistent 200 feet, more ahead in the D zone, picking up my checks. It was a good game for us."
The offense eventually came for Eichel, who had four shots on goal to tie for game-high honors. His quick wrist shot off a Brandon Saad feed was stopped by Jaroslav Halak in the second period and he narrowly failed to connect on a Jonathan Drouin pass on a 3-on-1 break in the final period. The much-discussed power play featuring Eichel and Connor McDavid had only one chance covering about 45 seconds in the second period and did not generate any shots on goal.
Eichel spent most of the game between Saad and Gaudreau and had a couple third-period shifts between Drouin and Mark Schiefele. He set up Gaudreau, the Calgary standout, for Team North America's third goal with a fine rush through the neutral zone.
"Johnny pushed it to our 'D' back there we were able to get a 2-on-1. That's how we want to play," Eichel said. "(Seth) Jones gets the puck to me and all of sudden we're going 200 feet and on the way to scoring a goal. That's how you want to see it go."
Eichel was like everyone else in the building watching Nathan MacKinnon's penalty shot goal that closed the scoring in the third period. It was a highlight-reel backhand that burned Halak after a series of dekes.
"We're all a little bit surprised with how good everyone is," Eichel said. "People make plays you're not really expecting. I was talking on the bench about that. You don't know what's coming. It surprised us and that goes along with it being game one. That goes with getting better. We have two more exhibition games and want to take advantage of those."
The next one is also against Team Europe, Sunday night in Montreal.
"I think we were good in a lot of areas," Eichel said. "There's things to clean up but for the majority of us, it's our first game in five months and we can take a lot of positives out of it and just get better. It's
day one and the first game we did a lot of good things.
"On Monday, we started practice and we were just getting to know each other. We're all young guys and we all come together pretty quickly. We're similar people, all hockey players. But it's nice to get a game under the belt with everyone and that makes us more comfortable with each other."