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Eichel gets assist for Sabres in tournament debut

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- It didn't take long for Buffalo Sabres rookie Jack Eichel to make a good impression at the Buffalo Sabres Prospects Challenge.

Eichel, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, assisted Nicholas Baptiste on a 2-on-1 break 25 seconds into the first period for the first of Baptiste's two goals, and the Sabres defeated the New Jersey Devils 6-2 at First Niagara Center on Saturday.

Eichel was sprung on the break after a backhand pass from former Boston University teammate Evan Rodrigues out of the defensive zone. Eichel carried the puck up the left wing and floated a pass behind Devils defenseman Reece Scarlett to Baptiste, who shot past goalie Mackenzie Blackwood.

"I knew I had a step on the guy that [Rodrigues] had chipped it by," Eichel said. "I saw the other [defenseman] and I wasn't sure if it was more of a breakaway or a 2-on-1 and it ended up being more of a 2-on-0, so [Baptiste] did a good job to drive the net and find the back of the net."

Eichel's speed on the breakout and creativity on the pass got the crowd of 5,505 excited right away.

"I think that his game … he's able to set guys up," Sabres prospects coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "[He] got that breakaway speed to pull away from people and make things happen, find room. And if he's not able to do it himself, he's able to find a space for somebody else and throw the puck into areas that others can get it. He has that creativity, and we liked what we saw today."

Eichel's line generated plenty of offense; Rodrigues had a goal and two assists to go with Baptiste's two goals.

"I think we're both smart players and we're both able to find each other easily," Rodrigues said of Eichel. "I think we obviously took advantage of that. He's a great player, I've said that time and time again. Every time we step on the ice we always seem to click and seem to play well."

The performance from Eichel's line was a marked improvement compared to what they showed during the Sabres development camp scrimmage in July.

"I think development camp we were trying to do a little too much," Baptiste said. "I know we had a lot of skill on our line at development camp and … we tried to piece them to death and try to make the harder plays and the more skilled plays. I think tonight we simplified a little bit. That's why we were able to have a little more success and score a lot more."

The Sabres play the Boston Bruins on Monday in the final game of the Prospects Challenge. Whether or not Eichel plays against the Bruins, the Sabres are happy with what they saw against the Devils.

"He looks that impressive when he's able to move his feet, pull away, show you the puck, pull it away from you and keep on going," Cunneyworth said. "That's a fun thing to watch. I think the fans showed their appreciation for it on several occasions, and that's a good thing."

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