Jack Eichel can be an engaging conversationalist. He proved it again Wednesday, chatting with surprised coffee drinkers who did double takes while grabbing their double-doubles from him.
Eichel’s willingness to talk fits well with the promises made by Jason Botterill. The Sabres’ new general manager has pledged open communication in the organization, a direct line from coaches to players on what’s happening and why.
Not surprisingly, Eichel has liked what he’s heard from Botterill.
“Seems like a great guy, and just looking forward to starting a relationship,” Eichel told The Buffalo News on Wednesday. “First impressions, he’s very well put-together. He’s very well-spoken. I think he’s real sharp. He knows what he wants.
“Obviously, I’ll get to know him more as I get to talk to him and meet him. I’ve heard nothing but great things from other people, peers of his that know him. I’m excited to have him and excited for the future.”
After previously exchanging phone calls and texts, Eichel and Botterill met for the first time Wednesday. The center was in Buffalo to help raise money for the Tim Hortons Children’s Foundation, and he visited the GM after working the drive-through and counter at three Tim Hortons.
“He’s going to try and bring in the winning culture that obviously Pittsburgh has had and instill that on us,” Eichel said, “just having an open relationship and trying to keep everyone informed, let everyone know where they are in different situations.
“It will be important for us. Communication’s a big thing, and he seems like a great communicator.”
A disconnect between players and coaches was one of the reasons owner Terry Pegula fired coach Dan Bylsma and GM Tim Murray in April. Eichel said the housecleaning was a surprise.
“It was a bit of a shocker,” Eichel said. “The Pegulas and the rest of the organization, if they think that was best for the future, then that needed to happen.
“The last two years, Tim and Dan have been nothing but great to me. I can’t say anything bad. They treated me well and took care of me. I’ve got to thank Tim for drafting me and Dan for being my first coach in the NHL. I learned a lot from him.”
Eichel reiterated that his exit interviews with the duo went well. Clearly still stung by rumors he had a hand in Bylsma’s departure, Eichel repeatedly said he’s just a player and had no input on the firings. He couldn’t pinpoint what didn’t click for the organization under Murray and Bylsma.
“I’m not really sure,” he said. “I went through both of my end-of-the-year meetings, and I thought things were all right. You don’t really know what’s going to happen.
“That’s not my position really. I’m more in terms of playing, as you know. Whoever the GM, whoever the coach are, I’ll just try and show up with a good attitude and be a good player.”
Eichel said he hasn’t followed the Sabres’ coaching search. He spent the first half of May overseas representing the United States at the world championships, and he’s been relaxing with his family in Boston since returning.
“I’m sure that all the people behind the scenes will do a great job at finding the next guy,” Eichel said. “I just look forward to getting things started.”
Eichel’s 10-hour trip to Buffalo was primarily to benefit Tim Hortons, which has a sponsorship deal with the 20-year-old. The coffee giant celebrated its annual “Camp Day.” The chain donated 100 percent of Wednesday’s profits from coffee and bracelet sales to the Tim Hortons Children’s Foundation and its seven camps for kids from low-income families.
Eichel spent time in Orchard Park and Hamburg handing out coffees at the drive-through, chatting with guests at the counter and sitting with them as they sipped their double-cream, double-sugar drinks.
“Obviously, for a great cause,” Eichel said. “An important day for Tim Hortons, which is an important partner of mine. I made an effort to be here and be doing this, and I think it’s awesome what they do. I think it says a lot about the Tim Hortons community to donate all that money to a good cause, for underprivileged kids to be able to do the things that they do.
“It’s great, and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”