BUFFALO – Jack Eichel looked like he would’ve rather been anywhere else. The Sabres center was restless throughout his six-minute chat with the media Monday, mostly giving terse statements and looking around as he stood at a podium.
Eichel, 20, isn’t handling the Sabres’ last-place finish in the Atlantic Division – they also ended 2016-17 an embarrassing 15th in the 16-team Eastern Conference – very well.
“It’s tough,” a seething Eichel said inside KeyBank Center as the Sabres held end-of-season meetings. “You’re not where you want to be.”
So what must change for the Sabres, who have missed the playoffs six straight seasons?
“We got to win instead of lose,” Eichel said curtly.
Eichel isn’t used to losing. Many youngsters of his stature – the 2015 second overall pick was one of the biggest prospects in recent memory – grow up competing for championships. They don’t face much adversity until they reach the NHL.
In his only NCAA campaign, Eichel played for a national title with Boston University. So his first two NHL seasons, while successful from a personal standpoint, have been rough team-wise.
Following Sunday’s season-ending 4-2 loss in Tampa Bay, Eichel reportedly sat in his full uniform long after the game ended.
“Season’s over, that’s what you’re thinking about,” the Sabres’ leading scorer said.
Eichel clearly detests losing, something he doesn’t believe has rubbed off on all his teammates.
“That’s what a winning culture is, not being satisfied with yourself, not being satisfied with losing,” he said. “I think it’s important to realize you can’t be satisfied with the fact you’re in the NHL. I’m here to win. It’s pretty frustrating. I think guys want to win.
“There’s a difference between saying you want to win and actually wanting to win and working, dedicating your life to it. When you do that and it doesn’t work, it’s pretty frustrating.”
So does Eichel think the Sabres have too many passengers?
“There’s a lot of great guys in the room,” he said. “I’m not going to call anybody a passenger. I love all those guys. I enjoy being around them every day, just didn’t do enough to put our team where it needed to be. As a group, we all need to look in the mirror.”
Eichel enjoyed a successful campaign, compiling 24 goals and 57 points in only 61 games. Remember, a high ankle sprain sidelined him the first 21 contests.
Still, to Eichel, that production wasn’t good enough. He mustered two assists over the last six games.
“The last six games I’d definitely like to have back,” he said. “It’s tough to swallow those.”
When a reporter pointed out he was almost a point-a-game player, he replied, “I wasn’t, though.”
“I haven’t scratched the surface of where I can be,” he said. “I played pretty good at times.”
Maybe Eichel was angry about something else in addition to the Sabres’ rough season. When Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl recorded two points Sunday, it knocked Eichel into 11th place in points per game in the NHL.
According to capfriendly.com, Eichel would’ve received a $2 million bonus for finishing in the top 10. He missed by 0.01.
But the sting of losing money is probably less than losing games. Eichel’s cognizant his actions and words matter. He said he tried to take greater ownership of the Sabres in his second season.
“More than anything, to be a leader on a team, to be a leader in sports or business or whatever you’re doing, you have to perform,” he said. “If you’re not performing, who’s going to follow you?”
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma had no update on winger Kyle Okposo, who was released from the Neuro Surgical ICU at Buffalo General Hospital on Friday, according to WIVB.
Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly said he will play for Team Canada at the World Championship later this spring. Forward Zemgus Girgensons, meanwhile, said he will represent Latvia.
Eichel said he hasn’t decided if he will represent Team USA. Winger Evander Kane said injuries will keep him from playing for Canada.
The Sabres sent winger Alexander Nylander, center Evan Rodrigues and goalie Linus Ullmark back to the Rochester Americans on Monday.