TORONTO – The final workouts back home in Boston are complete. His living arrangements in Buffalo are set. Once Jack Eichel goes through this weekend’s NHL/NHLPA Rookie Orientation in Washington, D.C., it will finally be time to play hockey for the Buffalo Sabres’ coveted top draft pick.
“I think it’s starting to get real,” Eichel said Tuesday during the NHLPA Rookie Showcase in Mattamy Athletic Centre, the former Maple Leaf Gardens. “I have to earn my spot on the Sabres, earn everything I get in the next month and a half. Just going into it with an open mind and try to be positive with the whole process. It’s an exciting time for me to finally get this all going.
“I’m a big believer nothing is given to you so I have to go out and earn it. Then I guess I’ll be able to see where I see my season is going after that.”
While things like linemates and ice time will be questions answered during training camp, the NHL’s No. 2 overall pick has already taken care of one big off-ice issue: Eichel will be living this season in the Amherst home of veteran winger Matt Moulson.
“He had just reached out to me after congratulating me in the draft. He offered it and I think it’s a good move for me,” Eichel said. “He’s obviously a really good guy who’s been around the league so I’m really excited about it. It’s a really good fit for me.”
Living with an older teammate has become pretty common for top NHL draft picks. Sidney Crosby spent his early years in Pittsburgh at the home of Mario Lemieux. Patrick Kane lived with Clarence native Kevyn Adams during his rookie year in Chicago. Moulson has exposure to elite draft picks, as his first year with the New York Islanders was the 2009-10 debut season on Long Island of No. 1 overall pick John Tavares.
Moulson, 31, and his wife have two small children under the age of four. Alicia Moulson’s sister, Jaclyn, is married to Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. It’s certainly possible that Eichel, who turns 19 on Oct. 28, will be living with a guy who could be his linemate from time to time during the season.
“I know that everyone who knows him well says great things about him,” Eichel said. “I haven’t heard a bad thing about the guy. The way he offered his house to me shows what kind of person he is. He’s a really generous guy, a good guy to be around.
“He’s somebody I can learn from. He’s been in the league a while. He’s been around a lot of great players, and I think it’s going to be a great experience.”
Eichel said he’s gained 8-10 pounds this summer through skating and boxing workouts and by focusing on nutrition. Rookie camp opens next week and Eichel said he’s excited to think he’s just 10 days from playing a game, Buffalo’s Prospects Challenge opener is Sept. 12 against New Jersey in First Niagara Center.
“This is what we love to do: Play hockey,” Eichel said. “I can’t wait for it to get going. The city of Buffalo, the organization, everyone around the organization is going in with a positive mind. It’s kind of a new look for us as an organization so we’re all really excited about the future in Buffalo and I think it’s good things to come.”
Around 40 rookies were on hand for the Tuesday’s event, run by the NHL Players Association in conjunction with the Upper Deck card company. The players spent some time on the ice in full uniform for photos and video, with Eichel sporting his blue and gold No. 15 Sabres sweater for the first time. They were also scanned for EA Sports video games.
The weekend program is more about getting players acclimated to being an NHL player, with discussions on off-ice areas like finances, health care, social media and gambling.