Player Report Card: Jack Eichel
If he hadn’t already, the 23-year-old cemented himself as an elite centerman in 2019-20
Total Season Stats: 68 GP | 36 G | 42 A | 78 PTS
Contract Status: Signed through 2025-26 season
A frequent recipient of criticism amid the Buffalo Sabres’ struggles over the past few years, Jack Eichel silenced his critics in 2019-20. Prior to the suspension of the NHL season, the 23-year-old was on pace to set career-bests in overall points. His 36 goals through just 68 games totaled eight more than his prior career-high (28 goals in 77 games last season).
Not only were his base stats impressive, the underlying metrics paint him as one of the most talented, positive-impact offensive players in the league. Eichel led the Sabres in expected-goals, and out-performed that number by a whopping 36.77-percent (which isn’t completely out of the ordinary for elite forwards).
That impact had a direct effect on rookie winger, Victor Olofsson, who not only experienced 3.51-percent xG increase when skating with Eichel, but was pacing-out to finish the year with 52 points.
His individual xG rate dipped a bit toward the end of the year when it was theorized that he was playing through injury as Buffalo held onto their diminishing playoff hopes. Still, on the year, the Sabres’ offense .23 more expected-goals per-60 with him on the ice than without him (a nine-percent increase).
From a league-wide standpoint, Eichel’s GAR mark of 10.5 at even-strength, ranked him among elite company among all forwards. In terms of expected-GAR, he ranked fourth in the NHL in all-situations. So, both in the spectrum of base production, and underlying metrics, the calls for a Hart Trophy nomination were certainly warranted.
Shifting the focus toward his defensive game, the metrics don’t match some of the more negative narratives he faced in 2018-19 (which were unwarranted even then). Though his defensive game will never jump out at you, he did post positive metrics in that regard.
His relative xGA/60 of .11 was the second-best mark of his career to date. From a Corsi standpoint, his relative CA/60 of .42 was also a career-best, as was his overall relative Corsi percentage of 2.52.
So, while the shots-against (with Eichel on the ice) were more dangerous this season, there were fewer of them. This could be part of the reason why many feel his defensive game improved to such a significant extent, when in reality, it was solid in 2018-19 as well.
It is quite clear that the Sabres have reached Eichel’s prime years. A failure to capitalize on this window would be catastrophic, and essentially make the past decade or so of suffering for naught. Buffalo cannot afford to waste any more years like this with extremely limited offensive support behind their superstar center.
Grading the Sabres’ captain at anything below a “A” simply isn’t justifiable. The team’s success starts and end with him, and when he looked hobbled over the last month or so of the season, the negative trickle-down impact was all too evident. In a year full of disappointment, he was a bright spot, and almost single-handedly kept fans engaged.
Season Grade: A