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McDavid wins first NHL battle with Eichel

Scores twice in OT win; each named to Team North America

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, the top two picks in the 2015 NHL Draft, were creating plenty of headlines on and off the ice last week.

First, there was the exciting buildup to the first NHL head-to-head matchup between McDavid and Eichel at First Niagara Center in Buffalo in March 1.

"Anytime you can score an overtime goal, it feels good," McDavid said. "I keep saying this game was a big deal for me because it was in front of friends and family. It just feels good to get the win in front of them."

If you include international competition, the game was the fifth head-to-head meeting between the two standouts. The previous was in preliminary-round play at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, a 5-3 win by Canada against the United States. Each player had an assist in the game.

McDavid, the No. 1 pick, made the most of the opportunity when he scored twice, including the game winner with 1:12 left in overtime off a fantastic rush and finish in a 2-1 win.

Video: EDM@BUF: McDavid nets a pair against the Sabres

McDavid holds a 4-1 lead in the all-time series against Eichel.

Eichel didn't have a point against the Oilers, but had five shots on goal in 20:43 of ice time. He won 4 of 5 faceoffs against McDavid, including all three in the third period. He finished at 48 percent on faceoffs (10-for-31).

McDavid had his first career overtime goal and his third multigoal game this season. He played 22:23, had five shots on goal and won 46 percent of his faceoffs (6-for-19).

McDavid was asked after the game if he and Eichel spoke at some point while preparing for any of their five faceoffs against each other.

"Recognition on the ice? Not really, and it's better that way," McDavid said. "That would just be feeding into the whole media thing if we're giving each other shin-pad taps."

McDavid's OT winner came nine seconds after Eichel skated around defenseman Andrej Sekera and fired a spinning backhand that went just wide.

"I probably should have just kept going on my forehand, tried taking it to the net," Eichel said. "Tough bounce, breaks him out and the puck ends up in the back of our net."

It was as if McDavid was shot out of a cannon as he picked up the puck in stride along the right-wing half wall, skated into the Buffalo zone and past defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen and scored his 12th goal of the season.

"He's a good player," Ristolainen told BuffaloNews.com. "He has full-ice speed. I was there. Tough to gap up, and he made a backhand goal."

Round 1 in the NHL went to McDavid against Eichel, but Oilers coach Todd McLellan came away impressed with each generational talent.

"I thought 15 (Eichel) and 97 (McDavid) were probably the two best players on the ice," McLellan said. "That's a real positive both for Buffalo and their future and ours in Edmonton and the League. They're fun players to watch and they didn't disappoint by any means. I'm sure we'll see a lot more from Connor and Jack."

He will.

McLellan will be the one leading McDavid and Eichel as teammates for Team North America in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Air Canada Centre in Toronto (Sept. 17 to Oct. 1). Each player was named to the initial 16-player roster revealed March 2.

Two-time Stanley Cup champion Adam Graves, who is a special assistant to general manager Peter Chiarelli and associate GM Stan Bowman for Team North America, is anxious to see how the young skaters stack up against the veterans.

"I had the privilege of watching McDavid since he was a young kid because I lived not far from him, so I watched him a lot, and I've seen Eichel in Buffalo and at the college level at Boston University," Graves told NHL.com. "These guys are special talents and special players. They are so committed off the ice and the way they prepare themselves. Their athleticism is fantastic."

Since returning to the lineup Feb. 2 after missing 37 games because of a fractured left clavicle, McDavid has eight goals and 22 points in 18 games. He leads rookies with a 1.10 points-per-game average. He ranks first among rookies with 2.23 assists per 60 minutes and 3.61 points per 60 minutes, and is second with 1.38 goals per 60 minutes.

"He's a big-time player, he scores big-time goals," McLellan said. "He knows he is an important part and going to be an important part moving forward. But he puts the team in front of himself all the time and to have those qualities as a young superstar is exceptional."

McDavid said he is looking forward to playing a part in the World Cup.

"I think the vets look at the young guys, the rookies and think they can't lose to us," McDavid said. "There's not a whole lot for us to lose in this situation. A lot of people looking in don't really expect too much from us, but we definitely have the talent to surprise some people."

The North American squad is a collection of players from the United States and Canada who are 23 years old or younger. The team is comprised of players who have grown up competing against each other in international competition, which makes for an interesting dynamic.

"There's a lot of really good players in this event," Eichel said. "A lot of teams are pretty heavily stacked. But there's a lot of good players on this North American team. It should be a great event."

There's a chance McLellan may opt to have McDavid and Eichel on the same line, or power-play unit, with McDavid serving as center for the right-handed Eichel. If the coach does decide to try Eichel at wing, the native of North Chelmsford, Mass., would welcome the opportunity.

"Nowadays most forwards are pretty versatile," Eichel said. "If I have to play wing, I'm more than comfortable doing that."

Eichel ranks second among NHL rookies in goals (19) and points (44), and first in power-play goals (eight), shots on goal (197), faceoffs taken (822) and average time on ice (18:56) among forwards.

If either Eichel or linemate Sam Reinhart (18 goals) finish the season leading the Sabres in goals it will be the first time a rookie has done so for the franchise since Ray Sheppard in 1987-88. Entering the game at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, Eichel led the Sabres in goals and Reinhart and Evander Kane were second with 18 each.

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