SUNRISE, Fla. – Jack Eichel’s on-ice attributes are so noticeable that his other traits are often overlooked. Those are helping the Sabres, too.
Eichel’s competitive spirit is undeniable. He takes losses hard, particularly when he doesn't make a difference. After a couple of recent games, including Saturday’s 2-1 shootout loss in Carolina, he stewed at his locker stall well after the other players had left. His anger was obvious.
He wants his Buffalo teammates to hate losing just as much.
“It’s important for everyone here to have the same mindset of one point is not good enough,” Eichel said in BB&T Center. “We need to get two points every night. A team we’re chasing in the standings in Carolina, they get points on us. It would have been nice to get that extra point, and I was just a little upset we didn’t get two.”
Buffalo has gotten points more often than not with Eichel. Entering Tuesday night’s game in Florida, the Sabres were 5-2-2 with the center in the lineup. They were averaging three goals with him compared to 1.8 without him.
As fans have watched Eichel make a difference, coach Dan Bylsma has heard him be a game-changer.
“One of the things you don’t get to see is his intensity on the bench,” Bylsma said. “He’s right now one of the guys that’s leading on the bench, his words and his demeanor and the way we need to play and the way we have to play. That’s something he’s been pretty consistent with.
“He’s a guy that’s doing that, and he’s trying to go on the ice and do it with his play as well.”
The game against the Panthers was Eichel’s 10th of the season. He had five goals and eight points in the first nine. He shot out of the gate, putting up three goals and an assist in two games, then hit a lull with one assist in four outings. He had three points in the previous three while rounding into game shape.
“Obviously, you’d like to see a little more production and points on the board, but I think for the most part I’ve played pretty well,” Eichel said. “I’ve been a little inconsistent, and I’m just trying to bring it more consistently every shift I’m on the ice.”
Spending three days in Florida brought back memories of Eichel’s NHL start. Buffalo drafted him in the Panthers’ arena in 2015, and he made several appearances in the area leading up to the event.
“I had some good memories in this building, so it’s always nice to come back,” Eichel said. “It doesn’t hurt that the weather’s nice, too.”
Alexander Nylander will get a chance to show his peers what he can do.
The Sabres have assigned the 18-year-old from Rochester to Team Sweden so he can participate in the world junior championships. The event starts Monday and runs through Jan. 5 in Toronto and Montreal.
The Sabres drafted Nylander with the No. 8 pick in June. He has five goals and 17 points in 29 games with the Amerks.
Being in South Florida felt like home for defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. He’s getting there in regards to Buffalo and the Sabres.
After spending the first seven years of his career with the Panthers, Kulikov played as a visitor for the first time. He admitted the transition has been tough, especially with the preseason injury that has limited him to 17 games this season.
“I wouldn’t say it was smooth,” Kulikov said. “Right from the first game in the preseason, I got hurt. Coming in to a new team, I was injured and wasn’t hanging out with your teammates, wasn’t getting to know them. It took awhile before I felt comfortable in the locker room.”
Zemgus Girgensons has never met Bob Hartley, but the two will get to know each over the next two years. Latvia has hired Hartley as the coach of its national team. Girgensons is the country’s most well-known player.
Hartley has never coached a national team, but he led Colorado to the Stanley Cup in 2001 and has also coached the Atlanta Thrashers and Calgary Flames.
“Looking at what he’s done, it’s a pretty impressive résumé for a coach,” Girgensons said. “I can’t wait to see it in person.”