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Sabres' Eichel open to playing this season without new deal

Jack Eichel knows what the market is for young stars. Eventually, the Sabres center will get a monster contract.

If it doesn't happen this season, that's fine.

"I have no problem playing the year out," Eichel told reporters Tuesday in Buffalo. "If that happens, it happens. Obviously, I'm pretty adamant on staying a Sabre and staying in Buffalo, but it's not something I can really control here. I can just control my play.

"I want to be here. I want to be in Buffalo, like I said. I want to bring some excitement to this town, and the contract thing will take care of itself. That's why you hire agents."

Eichel is entering the final season of his three-year, entry-level contract. After Edmonton signed Connor McDavid to an eight-year, $100 million extension and Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year, $68 million deal, attention turned to Eichel and his next contract.

"Like I told my agent, this is something that you do and you focus on," Eichel said after skating in HarborCenter. "We know where we stand. We know where the Sabres stand. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. I have no problem playing the season out and just trying to earn whatever."

Eichel's agent told WKBW on Tuesday that contract talks had died down and the center was planning to play without an extension in place.

"For me, I have no problem playing," Eichel said. "If I come to the rink every day with a good attitude, have fun doing what I'm doing, don't let that stuff affect me, don't let it bother me, don't let the stress of it all wear on you mentally, you're going to have a successful year, and that's the way I look at it.

"I looked at my summer as preparation for the biggest year of my career so far, and that's the way I'll continue to look at it."

Before his workout Tuesday, Eichel met new Sabres coach Phil Housley for the first time.

"He seems like a real sharp guy, obviously well-respected in the hockey community," Eichel told reporters. "From what I've heard and when I've spoken to other people who either know him, played for him or played with him, I've heard nothing but really, really good things. Everyone speaks so highly of him, so I'm just excited to get started and get to know him.

"From a brief conversation he seems like a really good guy, seems like somebody who's pretty easy to talk to. Obviously, his career and his knowledge of the game speaks for itself. It's going to be great to have him."

Eichel likes that Housley plans to push the pace, though former coach Dan Bylsma also said the same thing before installing a game plan that fell out of favor.

"From talking to him, the style of play that he wants to instill in us is going to fit in pretty well to my game," Eichel said. "Obviously, pushing the pace, playing with the puck, possessing it, playing fast, all that stuff bodes well for me, and I think it should be a good fit."

Eichel finished 11th in the NHL in points per game last season, recording 24 goals and 57 points in 61 games. He wants to continue to add to his game in every facet.

"I think every year you try to just become a little bit more mature, try to handle your business a little bit better, just the way you approach everything, whether that's your day-to-day at the rink or how I handle you guys or everything," the 20-year-old said. "It's all new. It seems like I've been doing it for a while, but it's only my third year. I just want to keep getting better at everything."

The Sabres will need a new captain after opting to not re-sign Brian Gionta. Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly get the most attention, and Eichel wants to improve his leadership ability.

"Obviously, that's a big goal of mine, and that's something that I need to do," he said. "I look at myself to be one of the leaders on this team and a guy who's going to push this organization to the next level. If that's going to be the case, then I've got to be a guy that everyone leans on, and I've got to be better in all aspects of hockey on and off the ice, just being more of a leader.

"I think if I do that, more guys will follow and we'll be successful."

If he's successful, the contract will certainly follow.

"You could say there's a lot of young guys coming in, having big impacts on their teams," Eichel said. "I just try to be the best player I can be. Guys are working hard. Guys are making an impact on their team and getting rewarded for it. I don't think the age should be too much of a reason for somebody not to get a good deal. If they've earned it, they've earned it.

"There's obviously a new market out there in terms of money paying for young kids. It's been set. I try not to think too much of that stuff. Like I said, I control what I can control, and that's how I play and how I prepare for every day. Like I said, that sort of thing takes care of itself."

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