BUFFALO – When the Sabres chose to rotate four alternates this season instead of awarding the prestigious ‘C’ to a single player, they likely started center Jack Eichel’s ascension to the captaincy.
The Sabres, of course, couldn’t name Eichel their captain last October. He was entering just his third NHL season and still prone to bouts of immaturity. He had never worn a letter, either.
So they let him sport an ‘A’ with veterans Zach Bogosian, Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo.
Eichel, 21, needed to grow into a leadership role.
Early on, as the Sabres slumped badly, Eichel occasionally showcased poor body language on the ice. On Nov. 18, he even skated back slowly after Carolina grabbed the puck, helping the Hurricanes score an easy goal.
But the Sabres’ only NHL All-Star matured throughout a miserable season, morphing into his team’s best player while learning how to act and talk like a leader.
When Eichel discussed a failed season a year ago, he was curt and distant. Before the Sabres departed last week following their 31st-place finish, he spoke firmly – like a captain – saying all the right things.
“You saw in his exit meeting, he’s matured a lot as a young man,” Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said last Wednesday inside KeyBank Center. “Even with his game, I thought when our team was playing some of its best hockey, Jack was a big part of it. It’s not just offensively. You saw when our team had success, we did a lot better away from the puck, tracking the puck. … He’s taken the right steps.”
Eichel said the captaincy isn’t something he thinks about.
“You can always be a leader,” he said April 9. “You can always bring different things to the table. For me, I just try and be myself everyday, whether you have a letter on your jersey or not, I think whatever you do, do it.
“And for me, I try to bring a personality to the rink every day. I try to bring passion and work hard. And when there’s times to stand up and say something, stand up and say something.”
Sabres coach Phil Housley said last week the captaincy will be evaluated in the future.
“I thought our captains did a good job this year, but I don’t have an answer for that right now,” he said.
Botterill, who plans to discuss the captaincy with Housley, said he has a “good relationship” with Eichel.
“But as excited as we are about Jack moving forward as a leader, it’s imperative that we have more players in that locker room step up from that standpoint,” he said.
Five other teams didn’t name a captain for the 2017-18 campaign. The Sabres’ last captain, Brian Gionta, wasn’t re-signed last year.
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, who was born 79 days after Eichel, is the NHL’s youngest captain.
Housley said last week his second training camp will be much tougher than his first as coach.
“There was a lot of philosophy, structure, system change that was implemented,” he said. “I think that took away a little bit, from the conditioning part. Then we had to address that part early in October … the compete, battle, just the standard overall in our practices.
“Looking back at that, we won’t have to do that again (next) year, we’re going to get right to work, and it’s going to be a tough camp.”
Okposo said the coaches put a game plan in place and showed patience. However, he said “some simplification would be good for our team.”
“Just a simple message,” he said. “Just say, ‘I want you guys to go work.’ Don’t worry as much about the Xs and Os and go out there and work. That’s what we can control as players.”
13 thoughts on “Youngster Jack Eichel could be Sabres’ captain next season”
Why wouldn’t they make O’Reilly the Captain? He’s older, provides leadership always, is now a family man, and spends more time on the ice than anyone else on the team, and doesn’t miss much time. He’s knowledgeble and affable.
He likes losing. Jack doesn’t
You are officially an idiot. ROR never quit as evidenced by the best year of his career was this past season. Honesty makes dumb come out from their mommy’s cellar.
I think O’Reilly already tanked, losers have no passion (same for Risto). Winners have a passion …to win! Release those losers who’ve shown they can’t carry a team and get more passion back into the locker room with Jack.
I think Ryan is an honest guy and feels horrible with the effort that everybody on the team showed, including Jack. One man cannot carry a team. Get rid of Ryan and Rasmus, I think not. But we all have opinions and I don’t wish to argue with you because your a fellow Sabres fan.
Need is to get players with an intense passion to win and not lose at all costs ! Some of this intensity is innate, some can be coached ! Much falls on Botteril and Housley to bring out this intensity !
I agree with you, it falls onto Management 1st.
Eichel DOES NOT deserve the Captain, at least not yet. Sure he stopped whining, midway thru last season. A half season of maturity is not a big enough window to prove he truly has matured. Besides, when has he ever took other players to task ON THE ICE? On the Bench? I think not once for either.
ROR. Why all the hate all of a sudden? He was brutally honest in his presser at the clean out day. How hypocritical people can be is showing how phony they are themselves. We want honesty in all matters, Yeah, right up till we get it. He was honest and if you are a real honest person yourself, you would applaud him not denigrate him. I bet a lot of those who disrespect ROR read and bought into John Vogl’s article. The BN’s Hockey Hack reporter.
I think Ryan is a big part of this team,but it is time for Jack to take over the leadership.With a C on his jersey itwill make him appreciate being the leader and becoming the leader.Rememberall of the other greats that wore the C Perreault,Gare Peca,Drury M.Ramsey etc.We have to have some faith in Jack.
We already have a leader in Ryan. When there is an important face off to be executed, what is all that talk between Ryan and the other players? He’s telling them how it is going down. Jack doesn’t do any of that.
Eichel is not a winner. Not a leader, trade him now.
Seems like a spoiled brat. Eric Lindross w/out the edge.
I’m sorry , O’Reilly doesn’t impress me as a leader . He sulks in his own way , he goes through prolonged stretches of pointless games . His exit interview was telling , way too much information . Eichel let his playing speak for itself .
His exit interview spoke volumes , he didn’t dwell on the losing but was calling on players to step up for next season. That’s leadership !