BUFFALO – Jack Eichel had just played about half of the final 25 minutes of regulation and overtime, and following a long shift in his own zone, coach Randy Cunneyworth asked the Sabres rookie if he had anything left. The 18-year-old phenom figured he could muster one final skate.
“I figured I could go out there and see what I could do,” Eichel said modestly following his highlight-reel winning goal with 37 seconds left in the three-on-three overtime Monday.
Eichel’s final shift looked as fresh as his first one in the Sabres’ 3-2 victory against the Boston Bruins in the final “Prospects Challenge” game.
When the puck squirted to Eichel at center ice along the right wall, he quickly blew by Anton Blidh, who was left flailing.
“It was almost like a footrace,” Eichel said. “I was able to just push it by him and kind of break away a little bit.”
Eichel quickly roared in on Bruins goalie Zane McIntyre, who watched a wrist shot sail over his right shoulder.
“I just tried to protect it down the ice,” Eichel said. “I was able to get a shot off and luckily it went in.”
Shortly after the game, a brief video of Eichel’s “first” goal in a Sabres uniform had more than 1,200 retweets on Twitter.
The goal might’ve been Eichel’s second-best play as the Sabres rallied from a 2-0 deficit before 3,537 fans inside the First Niagara Center. With 5:45 left in regulation, he drifted from the left wall into the circle and fed a saucer pass across the slot to a pinching Brycen Martin, who tied the game.
“I don’t think I’m going to forget that pass,” Martin said. “It was so perfect.”
The calm and poise Eichel showcased wowed Cunneyworth.
“That’s a pass that might not make it if you don’t elevate it or find that perfect sweet spot,” he said. “It’s pure ability.”
Martin, a defense prospect, said Eichel “can make plays that some pros can’t.”
“At such a young, such an exceptional talent,” he said. “He just brings the energy everywhere – in the room, off the ice and on the ice, he’s a true diamond.”
Eichel gave the Bruins, his hometown team, fits all night. In addition to drawing about three penalties, he also nearly scored in front before the play was whistled dead and fed a long breakaway pass to Nick Baptiste in overtime.
Eichel could wreak havoc with the three-on-three overtime, a new innovation this season.
“I had never played three-on-three,” Eichel said. “I guess it’s kind of a little weird, but it’s the new rule and I’m kind of a fan of it, a lot more ice. You can get hemmed in your own zone for a while if they’re kind of keeping on the outside like they were tonight.”
Eichel spent the final period playing beside Sam Reinhart, who moved up from his second-line center spot to the right wing.
“Playing with Reino’s unbelievable,” Eichel said. “He’s so good all over the ice, he’s so smart. It gives you a little bit of break in the D-zone here and there if he’s back before you. You can take his spot.”
Vaclav Karabacek scored the Sabres’ other goal. The Sabres also beat the New Jersey Devils 6-2 on Saturday. Regular training camp begins later this week.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) September 15, 2015