Skip to Main Content
NHL Insider

McDavid and Eichel: The greatest hits

Rookies have had numerous sensational goals and beautiful passes this season

by Mike G. Morreale @MikeMorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

There were many memorable moments shared by rookie centers Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres in 2015-16.

The first two picks of the 2015 NHL Draft provided plenty of special highlights and gave hockey fans a look at things to come down the road.

Eichel (19:06) and McDavid (18:50) rank first and second, respectively, in average ice time per game among rookie forwards this season. McDavid leads rookies with a 1.05 points-per-game average, and Eichel is tied for first with eight power-play goals.

New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac has played head-to-head against McDavid and Eichel and said they were two of the most difficult players to defend this season.

"They have great speed, great hands and they find ways to get opportunities, find holes, and they have that extra burst where they can get away from a checker and opponent where a lot of guys don't have that," Zajac said. "You have to make sure you check them tight because you don't want to be chasing those guys."

This week presents the best of McDavid and Eichel for 2015-16.

McDavid: McDavid grew up in Richmond Hill, Ontario, about 20 miles north of Toronto and was a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He made the most of his first NHL game against them on Feb. 11 with two goals and three assists in his most productive game of the season. McDavid also helped right wing Jordan Eberle get his first NHL hat trick after 17 two-goal games. The line of McDavid, Eberle and Benoit Pouliot combined for 13 points. 

McDavid's 5-point night vs Leafs

Eichel: Prior to a game at TD Garden in Boston on Dec. 26, the native of North Chelmsford, Mass., had one goal in 11 games. But that night against the Boston Bruins he had two goals and four points in what had to be one of his finest personal moments of the season.

Video: BUF@BOS: Eichel scores a pair in return to Boston

"You have to check them by committee," Zajac said. "You have to have layers against them. They're going to be good players for a long time so it's pretty fun to watch those guys and I'm not even talking about playing against them but watching the highlights. For them to do it at such a young age is pretty incredible."

After missing 37 games because of a fractured left clavicle sustained Nov. 3, McDavid lifted fans out of their seats at Rexall Place with an outstanding goal in his return to the lineup Feb. 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. His sixth goal of the season could not have been scripted any better. 

After collecting a pass from Eberle in the neutral zone, McDavid turned on the jets and dangled through defensemen Jack Johnson and Justin Falk before beating goaltender Joonas Korpisalo with a backhand-to-forehand deke 9:58 into the second period.

He received a standing ovation.

Video: CBJ@EDM: McDavid finds the net in return from injury

He had one goal, two assists and four shots on goal in 16:34 of ice time against the Blue Jackets. 

At the time of his injury McDavid had five goals and 12 points in 13 games. He has 10 goals and 33 points in 30 games since his return. 

Eichel: The fans at First Niagara Center stood in approval March 12 when Eichel scored his first NHL overtime goal. His second goal of the game with 1.0 seconds left in overtime. Sabres forward Evander Kane lofted a puck out of the defensive zone that Eichel got to first in the offensive end. He broke in alone, scoring with a backhand against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward.

"I heard the bench yelling that I had time but you never really know how much time you have, so I was able to take a quick peek up at the clock behind the goalie and notice that I had a little over four seconds left," Eichel said.

For Eichel, that's plenty of time.

Video: CAR@BUF: Eichel slips in OT game-winner before buzzer

"McDavid and Eichel have met their expectations this season," an executive from an Eastern Conference team told "There were flashes of brilliance and a few down turns. One can't question if either will become an elite star in our game, it's just a matter of when. In time one or the other will be the scoring leader in the NHL. The next season the other guy may lead the League in scoring."

It couldn't be coincidence that McDavid scored his first NHL overtime goal in his first NHL game against Eichel and the Sabres, could it?

That's what happened at First Niagara Center on March 1. McDavid's overtime goal came nine seconds after Eichel had skated around Oilers defenseman Andrej Sekera and fired a spinning backhand that went just wide. McDavid picked up the puck in stride along the right-wing half wall, skated into the Sabres zone and past defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to score his 12th goal of the season through the pads of Sabres goalie Robin Lehner.

Video: EDM@BUF: McDavid's second goal of night wins it in OT

"McDavid is good at getting body position on you and using his leverage and making you push him and that's how he gets ahead of you," Zajac said. "He's got good edges and he's quick at getting out of holes and getting body positon on you to where you can't check him."

Eichel: Eichel also has the ability to carry the puck end-to-end and create offensive opportunities for himself. That was most evident Feb. 14 against the Colorado Avalanche on his first-period goal in a 4-1 win.

After collecting the puck the neutral zone, Eichel circled back into the Sabres' end, built speed through center ice and along the left wall. He cut into the left circle and his wrist shot went through the legs of Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie and goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

Video: COL@BUF: Eichel rips puck between four legs for goal

"Eichel has a great stride and is good at carrying the puck through the neutral zone," Zajac said. "I think he has an underrated shot. He's good at keeping it on the toe [of his blade] and getting some deception from that."

McDavid's assist on a goal by Benoit Pouliot 10:43 into the third period of a 4-3 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 29 was as impressive as any goal he scored this season. 

After shielding Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban from the puck in the neutral zone along the right-wing boards, McDavid put himself in perfect position and allowed the puck to roll through and then poked it to Pouliot down the middle for the scoring chance. McDavid finished the game with two assists.

"McDavid and Eichel are so composed offensively it's hard to separate them," the Eastern Conference executive said. "The hockey IQ of each player is off the charts. They can beat you with speed, finesse and pinpoint passing. I think you're splitting hairs if you try to differentiate between the two of them."

McDavid was named NHL Rookie of the Month three times this season: October (5 goals, 12 points in 12 games), February (5 goals, 17 points in 14 games), and March (five goals, 16 points in 15 games).

As the season progressed Eichel exuded more confidence in his one-timer from the circle with the Sabres on the power play.

In a 3-2 loss against the Nashville Predators on Nov. 25, Eichel took a cross-ice feed from Ryan O'Reilly in the bottom of the left circle and drove a shot past goaltender Carter Hutton just inside the left post. That type of goal is becoming of staple for the 19-year-old and has served warning that if opposing goalies are going to cheat and give Eichel an opening on the short-side post, there's a good chance he'll find space to score.

Video: NSH@BUF: Eichel slams one-timer on feed from O'Reilly

"I think there's always a question how an 18- or 19-year-old young man will do stepping into the National Hockey League and how it will translate against grown men," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "I guess it shouldn't really surprise me, but the speed and power in which [Eichel] plays can be and looks to be dominant. If you look at his last 40 games, a lot of times he's been able to take over games and be that dominant force with that speed and power. That's something we've seen with regularity quite often the last half of the season."

View More