SUNRISE, Fla. – The Sabres’ selection of Jack Eichel on Friday night was the least-suspenseful pick in team history. With no reason to dawdle, General Manager Tim Murray didn’t.
“Buffalo selects Jack Eichel,” Murray said in his only comments from the stage while making the second pick of the NHL Draft.
“I had an idea that Tim Murray was going to say that in the exact way that he said it,” Eichel said in BB&T Center. “I was told that he was going to say it like that, so it wasn’t really a surprise. I kind of liked it. He’s straightforward and got to the point. He didn’t have to build up any suspense.”
While there was no suspense, there was plenty of excitement. Buffalo has the potential superstar it coveted, and Sabres fans inside the arena cheered wildly as Eichel pulled on a white jersey and put a Sabres cap on his head.
“The fans and people there, they’re so welcoming and so passionate about hockey,” Eichel said. “That means a lot to me to go to a hockey community like that where everyone cares about you and wants to see you do well.”
The hockey world has known since April that Eichel would become a member of the Sabres, but the emotions still poured from his family after the selection. The 18-year-old hugged his father, mother and sister, then gave emphatic handshakes to friends in the stands.
“My mom’s a pretty emotional person,” Eichel said. “She was crying. It was really cool to just go through this with your family, who has been behind you your entire life.”
After making his way to the stage, Eichel shook hands with Murray and stood between the GM and owner Terry Pegula for pictures. Murray had a smile on his face unlike any that he’s worn since taking over as GM in January 2014.
Eichel’s smile was just as large.
“It feels tremendous,” he said. “The feeling of wearing this jersey right now, it really hasn’t sunk in. To be able to talk to my family and my friends that are all here about the fact that I was just selected by the Sabres in the NHL Draft, it’s a dream come true.
“It’s a great feeling to be selected, especially in an organization like this. There’s so much passion and tradition. You look at the Buffalo community and everyone is really into their hockey and knowledgeable. Even though I hadn’t been selected until today, it seemed like I had been part of the Buffalo Sabres for a while now. To finally put this jersey on, it’s a tremendous feeling.”
Eichel, who hasn’t committed to leaving Boston University for the NHL, said the decision will come in a few days. His other decision will be a uniform number – his typical No. 9 is taken by Evander Kane – and Eichel sounded like he’s leaning toward keeping the No. 15 that was on his back to symbolize the draft year.
“I really hadn’t thought about the number choices yet,” he said. “I’m not really sure. Fifteen’s a good number. I’ve worn it before. It’s my dad’s lucky number and it’s my sister’s lucky number. It happened to be the year I was drafted, so there’s a lot of significance to the No. 15.”
Shortly after Eichel left the stage, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the Sabres had acquired Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn from Colorado in exchange for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher and the No. 31 pick. Earlier in the day, the Sabres traded for goaltender Robin Lehner and center David Legwand while sending the No. 21 pick to Ottawa.
Eichel took note of the acquisitions.
“Buffalo as a city and the Sabres as a team are heading in a great direction,” Eichel said. “You look at some of the moves they’ve made and the guys that they’ve acquired, the guys they have in their system and some of the guys they have on their team, there’s a lot of positives. I just want to become a piece of the puzzle.
“Buffalo wants success and they want success soon. I think that’s what’s going to happen.”
The Sabres will head to the second day of the draft with five picks. They’ll select 51st overall in the second round, then they’ll make the opening pick of rounds four, five, six and seven.
The prospects will join an ecstatic Eichel.
“Looking back at the entire year, it’s been the best year of my life,” he said. “This really caps it off. You hear all about the draft and everything that goes on here, but until you hear your name called and you go on stage and put a jersey on, there’s nothing like it. It’s an unbelievable feeling.
“The next step is just trying to make the NHL.”