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Sabres notebook: Eichel happy to welcome Fasching to fold

RALEIGH, N.C. – Over the last few years, Jack Eichel has gotten to know Hudson Fasching fairly well. The pair played for the U.S. National Team Development Program and were part of two American teams in the IHHF World Junior Championship.

So when Fasching officially signed his contract Monday night, forgoing his senior year at Minnesota to join the Buffalo Sabres, Eichel was ready to welcome him into the fold.

“I know him pretty well as a person and a player,” Eichel said Tuesday after taking morning skate in PNC Arena before the Sabres faced the Carolina Hurricanes. “It’s great for him to become part of the organization. I shot him a text last night. I know he’s real excited about it. It’s great to have him onboard.”

Eichel didn’t see much of Fasching in college. Boston University and Minnesota never met last season, Eichel’s only year of NCAA hockey. But he did see enough of his game in international competition to have some high praise.

“I mean obviously I don’t get to follow as much as I like playing out there but I know he’s had a great year this year and the last few years at the World Juniors he was really good at that tournament,” Eichel said. “He’s a player that works really hard in all three zones. He’s really good below the goal line with the puck and he gets to the net. He’s a good guy to have.”

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Defenseman Jake McCabe seconds that notion. McCabe did play head-to-head against Fasching in college. McCabe came to the Sabres after three years at Wisconsin.

“They’re our biggest rival,” McCabe said. “I’m sure there have probably been a couple big hits, but nothing sticks out in my head for that. He likes to compete and he likes to throw his weight around.”

“He’s just a big body. It’s kind of your standard power forward. He has a good net-front presence. He battles and competes hard and he can score. I think that’s what you’re looking for out of a big, young winger.”

Big. That’s the word that Sabres coach Dan Bylsma kept using when talking about Fasching. The 20-year-old comes to the Sabres listed as 6-foot-2, 216 pounds. He uses that size well, setting career-high totals this season with Minnesota with 20 goals, 18 assists and 38 points. In his three seasons for Minnesota, he finished with 64 points (32 goals, 32 assists).

Bylsma is also familiar with Fasching from World Juniors, where the winger had seven points (three goals, four assists) over 10 tournament games in 2104 and 2015. That 2015 year, Fasching played on a line with Detroit Red Wings rookie Dylan Larkin.

“It’s a guy I saw at the World Juniors playing next to Dylan Larkin for Team USA and he was a part of probably the best line that USA put on the ice for that tournament,” Bylsma said. “He’s a big guy, a strong guy, big-body guy in the middle of the ice. At the net, he’s got some hands and some touch in and around the net. He’s going get a chance to show where he’s at right now at this level.”

That chance will start at practice with the Sabres later this week. The plan, for now, goes no further than practice, Bylsma said, adding there may be an opportunity for Fasching to get into a game. But practice and adjusting to NHL speed is the first order of business.

“His skating is good,” Bylsma said. “I think his feet and his pace is something he’s going to have to improve on and get better at and get adjusted to the speed of the NHL game. He’s been playing 20-plus minutes a night for his college team and he’s going to have to make some adjustment to the pro game with that speed. Again, that’s probably going to come with practice and with time with the guys.”

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Eichel returned to the Sabres lineup after missing Saturday’s game in Toronto with an illness. So what sidelined the rookie star?

“I don’t even know what it was,” Eichel said. “It could have been a few things.

“I mean when you go through something like that it takes a few days to kinda get back to where you want to be,” Eichel said before Tuesday’s game. “I’m happy to be back with the guys. It’s much better to be in the locker room and go on the ice and things like that than to be out of the lineup. … I’m just trying to do the right things to prepare myself for the game.”

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The Sabres announced the 12th annual Scotty Bowman Showcase will take place April 10 at First Niagara Center. The event features three all-star hockey games between Buffalo and Rochester.

The first game at 11 a.m. will feature high school juniors vying for the Tim Horton Memorial Cup. The 1 p.m. game features high school seniors with the winner taking home the Scotty Bowman Cup. The third game will award the Rick Martin Memorial Cup as players from prep school/junior hockey face off at 3 p.m.

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