Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel was among 17 players announced Thursday as part of USA Hockey's roster for next month's IIHF World Championship in Slovakia.
Eichel, a 22-year-old center for the Sabres, competed in the tournament two years ago, when Team USA lost in the quarterfinals. He recorded five assists with a minus-1 rating in eight games and won't be the only Buffalo connection during this year's tournament, which will be held May 10-26.
General Manager Jason Botterill is part of Canada's management team, and Sabres winger Sam Reinhart will compete for Canada. Rosters for other countries have yet to be released, so it's possible they will be joined by other Sabres.
Though the Sabres missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for an eighth consecutive season, Eichel experienced a career year. He set career highs in goals (28), assists (54) and points (82), while posting a minus-11 rating in 77 games this season, his first as the team's captain. He missed three games in January because of an upper-body injury and received a two-game suspension in March for an illegal check to the head on Colorado's Carl Soderberg.
"I took some strides this year as a player," Eichel said during locker cleanout following the season finale. "But I think I had a really good first half of the season. I think the second half, it definitely took a toll on a lot of people, myself included. I think getting injured in the middle of the year didn’t help. Just dealing with that, I think it lingered a little bit.
"I think like the group a little bit, I was trying to find something that was going on in the beginning of the year. When things weren’t going well for us, I think it takes a toll and it wears on you. I think there’s still a lot of strides to be taken. I want to be an elite, elite player in this league. I want to be the best. There’s a long way to go. Obviously, there’s a lot of good players in this league, but I think I can be there with them."
This won't be the first time he has represented his country, either. Eichel participated in the U.S. National Development Team program for two years prior to his one season at Boston University. He has played for Team USA on the international stage on several different occasions, including two appearances in the U20 World Junior Championship.
He won a Gold Medal at the U18 World Junior Championship in 2013-14 and participated in his first IIHF World Championship the following spring, when he recorded seven points in 10 games. The Sabres drafted Eichel second overall in 2015, and he has 101 goals with 158 assists in 286 career NHL games.
Chicago Blackhawks left wing Patrick Kane, a South Buffalo native, will serve as Team USA's captain for the tournament.
The other 15 players announced to the roster were Blackhawks wingers Alex DeBrincat and Luke Glendening and center Dylan Larkin of Detroit, Arizona center Clayton Keller, the New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider, Philadelphia winger James van Riemsdyk, Florida winger Frank Vatrano, Ottawa center Colin White, Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes, Los Angeles defenseman Alec Martinez, Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei, Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter, New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider, Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko and Montreal goalie prospect Cayden Primeau.
McLellan compliments Sabres
Todd McLellan finally acknowledged he spoke to the Buffalo Sabres about their coaching vacancy while he was in town for the Frozen Four last week.
After being introduced as the next coach of the Los Angeles Kings, McLellan told the Los Angeles Times' Helene Elliott on Wednesday that he enjoyed his conversation with the Sabres management and called the opportunity a "really good job."
"It was a great experience," McLellan said. "I can tell you whoever gets that job will have a great ownership group and a management group to work with. They’ve got a tremendous pool of assets and it will be a really good job."
McLellan was in Buffalo to watch his son, Tyson, compete for the University of Denver in the Frozen Four and had been linked to the Sabres as early as last Monday.