Sabres' Eichel, Reinhart seeing progress in games

Tuesday, 01.26.2016 / 3:00 AM
Mike G. Morreale  - Staff Writer

Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma is set for the foreseeable future with twin-bill centers Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart in the fold.

Not only is each beginning to find his niche within the structure of how Bylsma would like to operate on a daily basis, but they're making major contributions for a team five wins from exceeding its 2014-15 win total (23).

"Where will Jack and Sam be four years from now? That's a good question," Bylsma told "I think you can't quite look at them and say they're grown men and they're the best that they're going to be right now. They're playing a grown man's game and being effective at it, and I look forward to the future. I think they are both going to get better and it's going to be fun to watch."

It's been fun for fans watching them mature and gain more confidence as the season has gone progressed.

There are a few similarities between Eichel and Reinhart. Reinhart was selected No. 2 by the Sabres in the 2014 NHL Draft; Eichel was chosen No. 2 in the 2015 NHL Draft.

They each have a tremendous work ethic, are given considerable responsibility on the power play and are among Buffalo's leaders in shot attempts for (SATF).

Reinhart has a 12.77 personal shooting percentage; Eichel a 9.66 shooting percentage. They each have provided quality scoring chances when on the ice. Reinhart has a 12.25 HSCF60 (On-Ice High-Danger Scoring Chances for, per 60 minutes) and Eichel an 11.65 HSCF60. They have worked well together as linemates on the power play; each has four power-play goals.

In a 2-1 win at the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 18, Eichel scored his 14th goal of the season off a one-timer from the left circle against goaltender Louis Domingue 10:07 into the second period. Reinhart did his part on the power-play goal by winning a faceoff.

"We both want to be that well-rounded, 200-foot player, and I think we're both developing into that," Eichel said. "You want to be versatile in the game and want to be able to play in any situation you are needed. I think there are similarities but also differences in our game."

Differences, according to Bylsma, that are pretty evident. Eichel has excelled on faceoffs. He entered the game against the New York Rangers on Monday with the most faceoffs taken among NHL rookies with 571.

"They have played some time together recently and they both can read off each other and are able to use each other's assets to be successful," Bylsma said.

Bylsma doesn't remember coaching a player that has made such a drastic improvement in his game as has Reinhart since September.

"I think you've seen him improve in so many areas," Bylsma said. "The pace in which he plays, how he's skating, his ability to battle on pucks and ability to battle in tough areas, and his shot. He's really worked on his shot and now it's a weapon.

"When you're talking about Sam Reinhart it's all about intelligence and smarts in how he plays the game; he's more deliberate and not as dynamic and flashy as Eichel, but he has the ability to outsmart and outthink veteran NHL players."

Not too bad for a 20-year-old in his rookie season.

Eichel, meanwhile, will frustrate the opposition with his speed and power game.

"I think in virtually every game he showcases that speed and quickness and he can dazzle," Bylsma said. "He's one of those unique players where, when he gets going and skating and has the puck on his stick, he's going to bring you to the edge of your seat. That's something you don't see very often in the game."

It's also rare a 19-year-old can exhibit that kind of confidence. Earlier in the season, when Eichel struggled to get goals, he blamed his effort and felt accountable for not helping the Sabres succeed.

Eichel had two assists during a seven-game stretch from Dec. 7-19 and wasn't happy about it. He admitted it was tough for him personally, but said he would also learn from the experience.

"I did love to see the accountability in Jack and how he played, but I also took some time to talk to him; he was playing better than maybe he was making it out to be," Bylsma said. "He thinks he can contribute and wants to contribute in a lot of ways, and I like that about him. I like that about his drive. He's settled in to not being so hard on himself and found what he can do to be effective for our team."

Eichel has made his own adjustments to become that effective player. Bylsma hasn't had to change his game at all.

"I don't think [Bylsma] wants to change my game and I don't think I would want him to do that," Eichel said. "He helps me in different aspects and areas and has given me advice on things, but I don't think his intention would be to change my game because my game is what has gotten me to this point, gotten me to become the player I am."

Eichel is more comfortable in his game now than in September and thinks he'll be even more confident in another month. He has great respect for Reinhart, who he feels is probably going through the same things, because he can do so much in so many different ways.

"He's very versatile, he can play on your fourth line or your top line, and he can play the middle or either wing," Eichel said of Reinhart. "He can do the job on the power play and can kill penalties and he can take big faceoffs. There's really so many things Sam can do and he's so underrated. He understands the game so well and his skills are top of the line."

Reinhart became the first Sabres rookie to score a hat trick in nearly 10 years on Jan. 10 in a 4-2 win at the Winnipeg Jets. Jason Pominville had been the last to accomplish the feat in 2006. On the first of his three goals, Reinhart came off the bench, took a pass from Johan Larsson in the left circle and beat goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to the long side 1:37 into the first.

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, meanwhile, remains on schedule to return to the lineup after the All-Star break. The Oilers play against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 2.

McDavid said Sunday he's been cleared for full contact. He will practice with Bakersfield of the American Hockey League during the NHL All-Star break but won't play in any games. NHL All-Star weekend is Jan. 30-31 in Nashville.

"Management and I came together and agreed to go to Bakersfield for a few days and skate and keep practicing," McDavid told the Oilers website. "It's a long break between now and then, just going to skate and get ready for what hopefully is a return on [Feb. 2]."

McDavid, the No. 1 selection in the 2015 NHL Draft, has been out since fracturing his left clavicle in a 4-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 3. He had five goals and 12 points in 13 games at the time of his injury.


Back to top