ST. PAUL, Minn.— If Jack Eichel was feeling any butterflies about his NHL preseason debut, they were not evident as the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft engineered the Sabres' come-from-behind win, 3-2, at Minnesota Monday night.
Eichel never looked out of place in his first exposure to NHL opposition. Centering Buffalo's top line between wingers Matt Moulson and Zemgus Girgensons, he looked confident from the get go and showed off his speed and vision to put himself into position for opportunities and set up chances, which finally paid off in the third period.
With Buffalo trailing, 2-1, Eichel took the game over in the final frame—providing the primary assist on the game-tying goal before tallying the game-winner.
On the tying goal, he showed great patience before finding Moulson (a combination Sabres fans might want to get used to) on a 2-on-1. After Girgensons sprung him forward, Eichel waited out Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper on the 2-on-1, getting him to commit before dishing to Moulson for the goal. It was a situation where many players his age would be prone to panicking, but Eichel was calm with the puck, waited until Moulson was in the right spot, and hit him perfectly.
Just over four minutes later, with Buffalo shorthanded, Eichel again exhibited his game-breaking ability to create the game-winning goal. He generated a turnover at the Minnesota blue line, beating Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon to the puck and breezing forward in alone on Kuemper. One silky finish later and you had a highlight reel-worthy goal worthy of the lofty expectations that surround this kid.
UFA pick up Cody Franson also impressed. He was Buffalo's best defenseman on the night and was confident moving the puck and invaluable on the penalty kill as the Sabres closed out the game late.
Nicolas Deslauriers scored the Sabres' only other goal. Chad Johnson got the start between the pipes and stopped 15-of-17 shots before being relieved by Nathan Lieuwen to start the third. Lieuwen closed the game out with three saves on as many shots.
The teams played an experimental five minute, 3-on-3 overtime period after regulation, giving fans their first look at the new format. Zach Parise scored a participation trophy-clinching power play goal with eight seconds left for the Wild to ensure everyone in the building went home happy.