Jack Eichel will have to wait until training camp to learn who his linemates will be with the Sabres. He wasted no time finding companions in Buffalo.
Eichel toured the city Thursday, one day after joining the Sabres with a three-year contract. Most of the stops were at the home of team sponsors, including First Niagara, BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, New Era Cap Co. and Labatt USA. Eichel also hula-hooped at Larkinville and ate lunch at Chef’s.
The big stop was at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The 18-year-old played video games with the children of Carly’s Club in the Companions in Courage Lion’s Den, a recreation area funded by the charity of former Sabres captain Pat LaFontaine. Kids too ill to leave their beds gave Eichel handmade cards when he visited their rooms.
“This young man has an exciting future ahead of him, and what a tremendous way to launch his career – by meeting some of his biggest fans and bringing cheer to our patients and families just when they most need a boost,” said Candace S. Johnson, president and CEO of Roswell Park.
Next to what number he will wear (still not announced), the most frequently asked question of Eichel is where he will be in the lineup. He’ll center the second line, but his wingers are undecided. The choices on the left side are Evander Kane and Matt Moulson, while the right side is anchored by Tyler Ennis, Brian Gionta and, possibly, Zemgus Girgensons.
“I’ve written on a scrap piece of paper numerous things,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’ll see different lines in training camp. We’ll see different lineups in exhibition games. Some of that will play itself out.”
One trick will be finding a player who can keep up with Eichel. Bylsma marveled at the wheels shown by the center at the world championships.
“I just know the speed at which he can skate is head turning,” the coach said. “Guys shake their heads. NHL players can’t really quite believe how good and how fast he can skate, so he’s special in that regard.
“That’s an exciting thing to have that opportunity to see that on our ice in Buffalo.”
The two fastest wingers are Ennis and Kane.
“Evander Kane skates at an elite level, and you think about putting speed together,” Bylsma said. “I also think Evander wants to have the puck and Jack wants to have the puck. There’s only one puck on the ice. The speed aspect might work, but both wanting the puck and having the puck on their stick wouldn’t work.”
Bylsma has watched video with Eichel, showing him how players like Sidney Crosby move without the puck. The coach says learning that trait can make Eichel a star.
“There are areas he needs to get better at,” Bylsma said. “Skating’s not one of them, but skating away from the puck is. When you’re blessed with such great skating ability, he needs to use it to his advantage a lot more, both offensively and defensively.”
The Sabres continued building their organizational depth, signing former first-round pick Bobby Sanguinetti to a two-way contract.
Sanguinetti is a three-time All-Star in the American Hockey League, including last season while serving as an alternate captain with the Utica Comets. The 27-year-old defenseman had 16 goals and 40 points in 61 games, then added 11 assists and 14 points in 23 playoff games.
The New York Rangers drafted Sanguinetti with the No. 21 overall pick in 2006. He has appeared in 45 NHL games with the Rangers and Carolina, recording two goals and six points.
The Sabres were quiet during the second day of free agency, so their hunt for a left-shot defenseman is still on. While the opening 24 hours are typically the busiest stretch, Buffalo has acquired three captains later in the week.
The Sabres traded for Chris Drury on July 3, 2003, picking up the center from Calgary. Craig Rivet came to town from San Jose on July 4, 2008. The Sabres sent Derek Roy to Dallas on July 2, 2012, in a deal that brought Steve Ott to Buffalo.
USA Hockey concluded a weeklong development camp for select 17-year-olds Thursday in Northtown Center at Amherst. The organization wrapped up the event by naming the national under-18 select team, and two of the players are from Western New York.
Forward Christopher Berger of Williamsville and goaltender Stephen Dhillon of Buffalo will represent the country at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, held annually in Slovakia and Czech Republic. Berger is a member of the Junior Sabres, while Dhillon plays for Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League.
The coach of the U.S. team is former Sabres center Derek Plante, who was an assistant at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The tournament, which also features teams from Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland, will be conducted in August.