Jack Eichel has taken a liking to Jamie McGinn both on and off the ice. During their chats, Eichel learned that one year ago this week, McGinn was heading to the hospital for season-ending back surgery.
This year, McGinn is getting pats on the back for repeatedly generating goals.
McGinn, with points in four straight games, will attempt to tie the longest streak of his career Sunday when Buffalo visits Edmonton. He has two goals and three assists during the run to bring his season totals to five goals and 11 points, which ranks in a tie for fourth on the Sabres.
“I’m enjoying it,” McGinn said. “I’m going to continue to work hard. I think I’ve done this before in my career once maybe, but I’m looking to continue to produce. I feel that I can do it, but it starts with work ethic. I’m going to start there.”
The winger recorded three goals and seven points during a five-game run with Colorado in March 2014. It helped him set career highs of 19 goals and 38 points, and the Avalanche rewarded him with a two-year, $5.9 million contract.
A balky back limited McGinn to just 19 games last season. He came to Buffalo as part of the Ryan O’Reilly trade in June, and he’s starting to find a home.
“You don’t just turn around after back surgery and feel your best,” Eichel said. “I think he’s starting to find his game and feel better in his body, in his back. He’s starting to feel like himself again, and you can tell by the way he’s playing.”
McGinn has done a good job of seizing opportunities. He’s getting time on the power play, and he’s recorded points on the man-advantage in two of the last three games. He played with Eichel on Friday, and McGinn buried a pass from the center with a one-timer from the slot.
“In practice he scored three or four goals just like that one,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s a straight-line guy. He’s a hard-working guy. He’s an inside-presence guy, and that’s what he’s been doing on the power play. That’s what he’s been doing for that line.”
As Bylsma noted, McGinn is not a fancy player. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder admits as much.
“I’m just trying to keep it simple, do the things that make me successful,” McGinn said. “I have to get myself into it by getting hits early. When I do that, the ice kind of opens up for me a bit.”
When McGinn is playing his best, his style also opens up the ice for Eichel. The 27-year-old likes to head toward the net, which draws the attention of defenders and the goaltender. That creates space for Eichel, who has shown he doesn’t need much to make things happen.
“I love playing with him,” Eichel said. “The thing about Jamie is he knows himself as a player. He knows what he’s good at, and he knows how to play the game. He’s an honest player. You know what you’re going to get.
“The one thing I love about him is he’s always looking to get me the puck and then get open to shoot it. I hope we can continue to get opportunities to play together.”
The duo should again be together against the Oilers, with captain Brian Gionta on the right side. They’ll try to help the Sabres score at least four goals for the fifth straight game and extend their 3-0-1 run.
“It’s finally coming around,” McGinn said. “It was frustrating there for a little bit, but we stuck with it. We did the small things right, and we’re getting to those hard-nosed areas and they’re starting to go in for us.
“I’m glad for everyone that we’re being rewarded right now, and we can’t change anything because it can be taken away real quick. We’ve got to continue to work hard and get better every day.”
The Sabres’ journey to Western Canada has become a family business trip. Buffalo, in need of an extra forward for the three-game swing through Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary, called up Cal O’Reilly from Rochester on Saturday. The forward is the older brother of Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly.
Cal O’Reilly leads the Amerks with 11 assists and 14 points in 21 games. The 29-year-old is Rochester’s captain.
The elder O’Reilly hasn’t played in the NHL since Feb. 5, 2012, with Pittsburgh. He has appeared in 113 NHL games, recording 13 goals, 28 assists and 41 points.
The Sabres have 13 forwards on their trip, meaning one will be scratched each game.