Drop the Puck
He has the financial security that comes with being one of the National Hockey League’s highest-paid players.
He has three years of pro experience. He’s excited about the changes his team has made in the offseason.
Physically, he feels great.
Now if Jack Eichel can just avoid the injury bug.
“I’ve had a few bad bounces along the way,” the North Chelmsford native said Tuesday from Buffalo, N.Y., where he’s gearing up for another season with the Buffalo Sabres. “But it’s a beautiful game and I’m so lucky to be playing it.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound center played 81 of 82 games as a rookie fresh out of Boston University, where he won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player as a freshman.
The only game he missed was the result of a bad bout of food poisoning during a road trip.
“To play 82 games is a milestone in of itself,” he said.
But a pair of ankle sprains his next two seasons kept him on the sidelines for long stretches, much to the frustration of Sabres fans who watched him get drafted No. 2 overall in 2015.
He was minutes away from finishing the final practice before the 2016-17 season when he injured his left ankle, forcing him to miss the first 21 games of his second campaign with the Sabres.
Last season offered more frustration. Entering a game in Boston against the Bruins, Eichel feels he was playing the best hockey of his pro career. But then he got tangled up behind the net with Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk.
After limping off the ice before many family and friends, Eichel learned he had injured his right ankle.
This time he missed 17 games.
Ironically, Grzelcyk is a former BU teammate and close friend. Hard feelings? Not even close.
“I actually spent half of the summer with that guy,” Eichel said of Grzelcyk.
Eichel is entering his fourth pro season in a great frame of mind. After living in Boston the previous two summers, he decided to spend this summer living with his parents, Bob and Anne, at their North Chelmsford home. His sister, Jessie, who’s he very close to, got married this summer.
The Sabres haven’t come close to making the playoffs in his first three seasons. But Eichel and the Sabres have reasons to be optimistic when camp opens Sept. 14.
The Sabres added forward Jeff Skinner, who scored 30-plus goals three times during his eight seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, and goaltender Carter Hutton, a UMass Lowell product who was terrific last season for the St. Louis Blues.
“I’m excited. It’s obviously a new looking team. We made some pretty major moves in the offseason. I think we got a lot faster, which is what we needed to do,” Eichel said.
Eichel netted a career-high 64 points in 67 games last season. He scored 24, 24 and then 25 goals in his first three seasons.
Like many in Buffalo, Eichel is excited to watch the development of Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who the Sabres took with the No. 1 overall pick in June.
Eichel skated with Dahlin earlier this week and came away impressed.
“He’s an impressive player,” he said. “I went out to dinner with him right after he was drafted and he’s a great kid first of all, someone we’re looking forward to having in our locker room.”
Eichel knows a thing or two about being under the microscope. He’s more than happy to help Dahlin make a smooth transition to life in North America. Based on his early interaction with Dahlin, however, Eichel is confident the young defenseman will be just fine.
“I think he’s someone who’s had pressure his whole life,” he said.
Eichel recently bought a house in Buffalo, just a half mile from the KeyBank Center, as he’s ready to begin playing under an eight-year contract which will pay him $10 million a season.
Follow Barry Scanlon on Twitter@Barry Scanlon Sun