SUNRISE, Fla. – For more than two months, Jack Eichel wouldn’t say much about his future. Of course, the 18-year-old knew the Buffalo Sabres would select him second overall at the NHL Draft. But the Boston University superstar played it cool, saying things like “if the Sabres draft him.”
But deep down, Eichel had a special feeling about the Sabres. He felt a warm welcome from the community and fans when the Sabres hosted the NHL Combine earlier this month.
So when the Sabres finally selected him Friday at the NHL Draft inside the BB&R Center, Eichel, one of the biggest prospects in recent memory, shared his true feelings.
“Even though I hadn’t been selected until today, it seems like I’ve been a part of the Buffalo Sabres for a while now,” he told a throng of cameras and reporters. “To finally put this jersey on, it’s a tremendous feeling.”
Why wouldn’t Eichel say anything? He didn’t want to get ahead of himself.
“You don’t want to assume anything before it’s happened,” he said. “So until it was set in stone I didn’t want to publicly even speak about my feeling for the Sabres organization. I wanted to be a part of this. Now that it’s finally set in stone I can say this is where I wanted to be and it’s a dream come true.”
Now, about his future. Eichel wouldn’t say whether he’ll turn pro or return to college. He plans to announce his decision in “a few days.”
Is he leaning one way?
“I don’t know,” the center said.
Clearly, Eichel was overwhelmed with emotion and just wanted to enjoy the special moment.
“It’s tough to put it into words,” he said about what he was feeling. “Thinking back on the entire year, it’s been the best year of my life. This really caps it off. … Until you hear your name called and you go on stage and put a jersey on there’s nothing like it. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
The moments from hearing his name called to standing on stage in a Sabres jersey went by in an instant.
“You’re wearing an NHL jersey and you’re on stage, and it’s your dream and it came true,” he said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Sabres general manager Tim Murray understands how special Eichel is to the franchise and the city.
“It was one of the special moments in my drafting career,” he said. “You don’t get to draft that high very often nor do you want to. You don’t get that caliber player very often. It was great.”
Murray was busy before drafting Eichel. The Sabres’ recent moves – they also acquired center Ryan O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche – have impressed the youngster.
“As a city and the Sabres as a team, it’s heading in the right direction,” Eichel said. “When you look at some of the moves that they’ve made, the guys they’ve acquired, some of the guys on the team, there are a lot of positives. I just want to be a piece of the puzzle, because Buffalo wants success and wants success soon.”
Eichel’s excited to join the community and feel the rabid support of the Sabres’ large fan base.
“They’re so welcoming,” he said. “They’re so passionate about hockey. That means a lot to me, to go to a hockey community like that.”
What number will Eichel wear? He sported No. 9 in college, a digit winger Evander Kane grabbed in February. Eichel was given No. 15 for 2015 to wear on stage.
“Fifteen’s a good number,” Eichel said. “I’ve worn it before. It’s my dad’s lucky number. It’s my sister’s lucky number. It’s my dad’s number. It happened to be the year I was drafted. So there’s a lot of significance to the No. 15.”