I took a beating on Twitter recently for daring to say that if you redid the 2015 NHL Draft today, there's a chance Jack Eichel might not be the No. 2 pick and instead might only be the third-best player.
Now, the Sabres were always taking Eichel at No. 2 after Edmonton took Connor McDavid. And anybody in that spot three years ago certainly would have as well. So there's no judging the point of what was done that night in Sunrise, Fla.
But in the rear-view mirror of hindsight, plenty of hockey people you talk to wonder how big Eichel will become. Even though he's already signed his $10 million a year extension, injuries in two of his three seasons have prevented Eichel from having 30 goals or even 70 points in a season.
Prospect hound Scott Wheeler of The Athletic is clearly one of those wondering. He did a 2015 redraft on the subscription site today (the link is here if you subscribe) and had some pointed comments on Eichel:
"I still think Eichel is the second-best player and will be the second-best player to emerge out of the 2015 class but the gap between him and the handful of players that follow in this re-draft is a lot more narrow than we thought it would be, and it wouldn’t shock me if he was surpassed. McDavid has become the generational player everyone expected he would be, but Eichel hasn’t yet risen to the dominant level many (myself included) expected he would. Team, supporting cast, and injuries have played a part and I still believe he becomes a perennial 80-ish point centre, but the rest of his draft’s top players are catching up — and fast."
After a 56-point rookie year, Eichel has 121 points in 128 games the last two seasons but also has a minus-38 rating. Wheeler and others in the game at least wonder if Mathew Barzal of the Islanders, Zach Werenski of the Blue Jackets or Mitch Marner of the Leafs might develop into the second-best player from what is clearly a deep class.
Barzal just fashioned an 85-point season and is the likely Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year while Werenski and Marner have both played key roles on playoff teams two years running while the Sabres sank to last place in the NHL in Eichel's third season.
That first round in 2015 looking better every day with #NHLJets Connor going off tonight: McDavid, Eichel, Marner, Hanifin, Provorov, Werenski, Meier, Rantanen, DeBrusk, Barzal, Connor, Boeser, Konency, Already quite a group.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) May 6, 2018
Eichel has 73 goals, 104 assists and 177 points, all second among the Class of '15 to Connor McDavid as folks would have expected. He's played 209 games, tied with McDavid for second behind Noah Hanifin's 239. The Sabres are adding Rasmus Dahlin in June, exactly the kind of supporting cast member Wheeler is referring to.
Buffalo fans are ultra-quick to jump on anyone – in town or outside it – who dares to question how much Eichel is contributing to the cause. I'm on record as saying he should be the captain next season. He also needs to produce star numbers offensively. He's not there yet even though he's about to start getting paid like it. It will be fun to see what kind of totals he can ring up in year four now that Dahlin is on his blueline.