Jack Eichel’s week in Buffalo was also Buffalo’s week with Jack Eichel. Everywhere he went - Canalside, the movies, out for sushi or on a tour of the USS Little Rock - Sabres fans went out of their way to make him feel at home.
In fact, Eichel said Saturday, someone walked up to him and said, “Welcome home.”
“It helped me think about some things and made my experience really nice,” said Eichel. “People are really excited about the future.”
The NHL Scouting Combine, which Eichel dominated, was just the start to his life in Buffalo. The Sabres will draft him second overall June 26, cementing a relationship between the city and a star prospect.
A Boston University teammate predicts the relationship will start right away. Though Eichel hasn’t committed to leaving school and joining the NHL, A.J. Greer doesn’t expect his fellow forward back on campus this fall.
“No, I think he’s ready,” Greer said in HarborCenter. “He’s a pro. In his mind he’s a pro, and as a hockey player he’s a pro.”
Greer hung out with his friend and teammate during their stay downtown. He saw firsthand what the fans’ affections meant.
“It’s great for him that he’s having such a blast in this city,” said Greer, who talked about Eichel during his interview with the Sabres. “They have a great feel for him. I think they’re excited.”
They should be, Greer said. Folks have been touting Eichel’s talents for years, but few have done it as glowingly as Greer.
“He just wants to be the best, and I think he is the best,” Greer said. “He’s going to do great things. I strongly think that he should go first” overall in the draft. “He’s a great player, a great person. He’s an organization guy and one of the classiest guys I’ve met.”
Eichel’s drive to be the best is one of the reasons Boston University transformed from a 10-21-4 team into the national runner-up. He won the Hobey Baker Award after putting up 71 points in 40 games.
“Jack kind of sparked something at BU, for sure,” Greer said. “The way he acted like a pro everywhere – whether it was on the ice, in the gym, in the classroom – it kind of gave the impression to do the same thing and put in as much work as he does. I think that’s why we were so successful is we had guys like that on the team.”
Eichel’s success continued during Saturday’s fitness testing. After measuring in at 6-foot-2 and 193.67 pounds, he finished in the top five in six of the 15 categories – the most top-five appearances of anyone. Only goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (five), forward Karch Bachman and defenseman Brendan Guhle (four each) had more than three entries in the top five.
The 18-year-old, who didn’t relish the interview sessions, had a definite glow and smile after his impressive workout.
“You’re out there with a bunch of other players just competing,” he said. “I think it’s in anybody’s competitive nature to want to top all the score lists.”
Eichel finished tied for first in the most grueling event, the VO2 max bike test. He rode through increasing resistance for 12 minutes, 15 seconds while fitted with an oxygen tube. He also finished first in the right-hand grip, second in an agility test and fifth in the vertical jump (26.18 inches) and standing long jump (9 feet, 7 inches). He was fourth in the bench press, lifting 70 percent to 80 percent of his weight 16 times.
Eichel easily won the head-to-head showdown with No. 1 draft pick Connor McDavid. It was expected. McDavid is a magician on the ice but isn’t physically imposing off it, especially compared to Eichel. McDavid’s only top-five finishes were in an agility test and the left-hand grip.
Greer, who’s seen how Eichel trains, was not surprised by his teammate’s showing.
“He’s just a beast,” Greer said. “He’s a monster.”
The Combine was the prospects’ final event before the draft. Eichel plans to spend the next couple of weeks in Boston, taking classes and working out. He’ll also start to anticipate the draft, though not as much as the folks in his new “home.”
“Nothing’s set in stone, but it seems like this is where I would end up,” Eichel said. “The people here are really welcoming. Obviously, they care a lot about their hockey.
“I really enjoyed being in Buffalo for the week.”