The points are piling up for Jack Eichel and he reached another career milestone Wednesday when he was selected for the Atlantic Division team that will play in the NHL All-Star Game Jan. 28 in Tampa. It's the first All-Star nod for Eichel, the 21-year-old in his third pro season.
"It's going to be a huge honor," Eichel said Thursday morning in KeyBank Center as the Sabres were preparing for the evening's game against Columbus. "It's obviously something you grow up watching and just some of the people that are going to be there that I grew up watching and idolizing, ... I'm very fortunate to be able to represent the Sabres."
Eichel has 17 goals, 22 assists and 39 points this season, leading the Sabres in all three categories. His pace for each (32-42-74) would be career highs in all three as well.
"It's just a reflection of his season and where he's been," said coach Phil Housley. "It's exciting for being a young player in this league to have an opportunity to represent your organization. It's one of the highlights right now of Jack's season and he's earned it."
Eichel had a 16-point December, the second-best month of his career, and has 15 points in his last 11 games. It was a major turnaround from a stretch that saw him score just three goals in 18 games from Oct. 24-Dec. 2.
"Early in the year, maybe I wasn't getting breaks, finishing my shots or capitalizing on opportunities," Eichel said. "Statistically, It wasn't showing but I'm just trying to work shift in and shift in. Get in on the forecheck and disrupt things a little bit more. Get to the net.
"It's a simple game if you think about it but maybe these last whatever few games have been more simple for me. Just try to get pucks to the net, use my speed and my body to create chances. Maybe earlier in the year, I was being a little fine and trying to make the perfect play."
"He puts the time in. He's really putting the effort in to try and get better," said winger Kyle Okposo, who represented the Sabres in last year's game in Los Angeles. "I think he still has levels he can get to and find in his game. It's nice to see him progessing and I think he can only get better."
The All-Star Game will be a 3:30 start on Jan. 28 and will be televised by NBC. The winning division splits $1 million among its players. Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos is the Atlantic captain. This will be the third year of the 3-on-3 games format, with two semifinals and one championship game representing the three periods.
"It seems like the guys really enjoy the 3-on-3 and it gets pretty serious," Eichel said. "People are more inclined to watch it if there's something on the line and there's a bit more competition."
Eichel will also participate in the All-Star Skills Competition on Jan. 27. The league is tinkering with some of the events and has yet to announce the format but Eichel would be a good bet for any Fastest Skater competition, assuming that event remains part of the competition.
"I feel like that one you have to exert a lot more energy than the other ones," said a smiling Eichel. "You might have to warm up for it too. But I'd be happy to do anything."