Sabres Report Cards: Jack Eichel

Today’s report card deals with one of the lone bright spots on this year’s team, Mr. Jack Eichel.

The season is over, and we’re going to rate every player who played more than 20 games this season on their performance the same way we were all graded back in the day - on a report card scale of A to F. We’re taking a look at everyone from Bailey to Rodrigues in our 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres Report Cards.

Age: 20

Contract: Cap hit of $925,000, under contract through 2017-18 season.

Introduction: Jack Eichel was drafted #2 overall two years ago with the anticipation that he would become the centerpiece of a Sabres rebuild that would quickly progress from bottom-dweller to playoff contender.

Much like the team’s current rebuild, Eichel’s sophomore season shows significant improvement in many areas, but also a few glaring weaknesses. He led the team in points, was second in shots, and finished 11th in the NHL in points per game at .93 points per game. Let’s dig a little deeper to find out just how good Eichel’s second season was.

Key Stat: As we first learned back in March, Eichel is one of the best transition forwards in the NHL. No forward carries the puck out of their own zone or into the opponent’s zone more than Eichel. On a team that was sorely lacking in players with the ability to either exit the defensive zone or enter the offensive zone with any kind of consistency (we’re looking at you, every defenseman) Jack was the one player you could always count on to do both.

Thumbs Up: As stated earlier, Eichel’s .93 points per game was a fantastic number considering he missed a third of the season with a high ankle sprain, an injury that lingers even after a player is approved to return to the ice. He helped pile up those points by leading the team with 4.1 shots per game, and finished second overall in total shots. Eichel’s dynamic blend of speed, skill, vision, and his wicked shot provide the catalyst for most of the Sabres 5-on-5 offense, and he was deadly on the half-wall for the #1 power play in the league, finishing second on the team with 24 power play points.

And while this might not be a universally agreed upon positive, Eichel was certainly the locker room leader in “Who hates losing the most?” There were multiple instances this year where Eichel showed his emotion after a particularly tough loss or the continuation of a losing streak, something which the Sabres have not had enough of in recent years.

While some might point to these outbursts as childish, or as something a leader shouldn’t do, I don’t. Hockey is a game of emotion and passion, as anybody who’s watched any playoff game ever can tell you. The Sabres need more of that emotion and passion, especially after spending multiple seasons robotically playing out the string in a year that was never meant to end in the postseason. If you want a winning hockey team, you need guys who won’t put up with losing, and will hold their teammates to the same standard.

Thumbs Down: While there’s a lot that Eichel brings to the Sabres, there are also two glaring wekanesses that he’ll need to shore up in order to become a truly elite NHL player. The first is defensive zone awareness, and while Eichel did show improvement this year, he’s still not a reliable two-way player. For a guy who drives so much offense, he should have a Corsi number higher than 47.13, and there’s still too many times that Eichel loses coverage in his own zone.

The other weakness Eichel has in his game is that he’s just awful on faceoffs. His 38.9 winning percentage is one of the worst on the team among forwards who regularly take draws, and late in the season he would often be subbed out of the dot for Sam Reinhart or Evander Kane, both of whom have better (but still not great) win rates than Eichel. For a guy who’s called on to play big minutes every night against quality competition, this has to get better.

Memorable Moment: If you want a good moment, check out this OT winner against Nashville that shows off Eichel’s speed, skill, and deadly shot.

But if you want the thing that will most likely stick with him for years to come, it’s gotta be the presumed rift with Dan Bylsma that saw Eichel (unfairly, I think) labelled as a “coach killer” and also promoted to Sabres GM for a few days.

Report: Eichel won’t sign extension if Bylsma is still coach (Updated)

Voting: Using the good old grade school system of A, B, C, D, F, with a grade of A representing a great season, a grade of C being the performance you expected, and F a very poor season, rate Jack Eichel on his performance this year.

Grade Jack Eichel on his 2016-17 season.