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Jack Eichel happy and humbled to be in Buffalo for the long term

Jack Eichel said he spent a good amount of Tuesday on the phone with his dad and his agents as the 20-year-old center came to a contract agreement with the Buffalo Sabres.

It wasn't just any extension. It was a mega extension. Eichel will be a Buffalo Sabre for the next nine years, signing an eight-year, $80 million extension two days before the start of the regular season. It was the biggest contract in franchise history.

But he didn't tell his teammates right away.

In fact, they found out like the rest of us, via Twitter.

"I got texts from a few teammates just congratulating me and a few nice messages," Eichel said. "I was with Jake McCabe and Sam Reinhart sitting on the couch having dinner. I went outside to take a call from (Sabres owner Terry Pegula) and when I walked back in and sat down they looked at me and didn't say anything and started laughing."

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There was plenty of laughter and smiling around KeyBank Center Wednesday afternoon as Eichel and Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill met with the media to discuss the deal.

Both player and management came from the same place — they wanted a long-term deal and they were hoping to get it done before the start of the season.

It was as amicable as contract negotiations can seemingly get.

"I thought the goal for both parties was to get a deal done," Botterill said. "I respected their side. They respected some of the concerns on our side. Leading up to the last couple of weeks, we were trying to get it done before the start of the season, which we thought that would be best for both parties. At the end of the day, there was compromise on both sides. It's a situation where we wanted to make sure four or five years from now Jack and his family are excited about being in Buffalo and comfortable with his contract."

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Eichel is pretty comfortable with the contract, particularly with the length. Eichel, who was the second-overall pick by the Sabres in 2015, has made it clear that he loves Buffalo, wants to stay in Buffalo, and wants to win in Buffalo.

"I told my agents I wanted to be here for as long as I could and commit to this city and this organization. I think in terms of how long, it was set pretty quickly," Eichel said.

"This city means so much to me. I like to think that I mean a lot to the city as well," Eichel said. "This organization has been nothing but great to me since the first day I walked through the doors. They've given me every opportunity that I've wanted. The city the same way. People are good to me, they're good to my friends and family, so I have nothing but great things to say about Buffalo. I think I really owe it to them and I owe it to myself to do something special here with the group of guys we have here in the room and in the organization. It's really exciting times. It's an organization that has believed in me and I owe a lot to it."

It was an exciting time for his teammates as well, who are expecting him to play host to an elaborate, and expensive, celebratory dinner for the gang.

Pricey entrees aside, his teammates understand how special a player Eichel is, how dynamic he can be, and what his success means to the success of the group. On the cusp of his 21st birthday, Eichel is already a leader by actions, even if those actions need a little boost.

At Wednesday's practice in HarborCenter, veteran Jason Pominville, himself a former captain, nudged Eichel into the center of the circle to lead the team stretch.

"He should be there,” Pominville said. "I think everybody was kind of telling him to go in there and just give him a push to go in there. I think it’s important. Obviously, he’s probably a little embarrassed and shy. He didn’t want to go in there. I think it was the right thing to do."

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While the length and size of the contract make him a leader by default, Eichel said he was already preparing to take a bigger leadership role this season, with or without a contract and with or without an official captain or alternate captain designation. The contract may be a motivator, but it's not much extra pressure. And as Ryan O'Reilly pointed out, even if there was extra pressure, Eichel has already shown a degree of mastery over it.

"There is," some pressure of a big contract, O'Reilly said. O'Reilly knows about big contracts. In 2015 he signed a seven-year, $7.5 million per year deal with the Sabres. "But I think that pressure is something you want with it. He's a guy that's handled all the pressure he's had so far and he's going to continue to handle it well. He's a superstar."

His poise through the negotiations and his performance through training camp already earned him praise from first-year head coach Phil Housley.

"He handled it quite well. I’m just speaking on experience being in his position, playing under those circumstances. It’s always in the back of your mind, obviously," Housley said. "Is there some weight off his shoulders? I think so. I think he can really focus on his game right now moving forward."

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