The Buffalo Sabres are having a surprising bounce back season through 34 games. Entering play tonight they sit alone in second place in the Atlantic Division and are 11 points clear of a playoff spot.
There are a variety of reasons for the Sabres turnaround, but the primary reason is the play of their captain Jack Eichel.
The 22-year-old center has 14 goals and 45 points through 34 games. That puts him on pace for 34 goals and 109 points this season.
He’s the driver on one of the best lines in the NHL this season with Jeff Skinner and now Sam Reinhart. The trio has combined for 46 goals and 112 points so far. That line and has driven the Sabres offense throughout the season and have continued to terrorize their opponents.
Eichel has hit that level that we heard about when he was drafted second overall in the 2015 NHL Draft behind Connor McDavid. He’s taking over games and every shift is becoming a must watch.
The poor play over the last two seasons did not sit well with the Boston-native. As the now unquestioned leader of the Sabres, he’s doing everything in his power to change fortune of his team.
Eichel has entered into the discussion as a legitimate candidate for the Hart Trophy (MVP). He’s doing what we saw Nathan MacKinnon and Taylor Hall do for their clubs last season.
MacKinnon was the key piece to the Colorado Avalanche going from last place to the playoffs last season with 39 goals and 97 points in 74 games for his club. The 23-year-old finished second in the Hart voting to New Jersey Devils forward Hall.
Like MacKinnon, Hall, led his team from last place in the Eastern Conference to the playoffs last season. He scored 39 goals and 93 points in 76 games en route to his first career Hart Trophy.
Eichel is following the same exact path the two aforementioned players went down. If the point total stays close to his projection and the Sabres are a playoff team, he deserves Hart consideration.
He’ll have some difficult competition at the end of the season in Mikko Rantanen, Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, and MacKinnon all currently expected to be in the conversation at the end of the season.
Outside of McDavid, Eichel, is arguably the most valuable player to his team. Without Eichel being the driving force behind the offense, the Sabres would still be at best a middle of the road team in the league.
There’s no question Eichel has entered into the elite status of player in the league. Watching him take over games night in and night out has been a treat for Sabres fans.
If the ride continues, we’ll see if he gets the recognition he deserves from the league at the end of the season.