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Eichel ready for Prospects Challenge in Buffalo

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel is excited to take another step forward in his NHL career.

Eichel, the second pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, will be on the Sabres team that will play the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins as part of the Prospects Challenge Saturday through Monday at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.

"You work hard all summer to prepare for prospects tournament and training camp," Eichel said on Friday. "It's been a long road from the draft and everything that's happened. Now that the season's here, I'm just excited to start playing hockey again. It's the time of year everyone loves."

For Eichel and the rest of the top players, the Prospects Challenge is a chance to get a head start on training camp and an opportunity to prove they belong in the NHL.

"Like any hockey player, you're excited to get going," Eichel said. "I'm sure everyone was biting at the bit to get back here. It starts getting with the guys and getting to know people. It seems like it's a pretty new environment in terms of the coaching staff, a lot of the training staff has changed. There are a lot of new faces in the locker room. It seems like it's kind of a new start and everyone is excited to get back.

"That being said, the first game is October 8 and everyone still has to go through prospect camp and training camp so it's a little bit away. You kind of just manage that excitement from day to day and get excited for practice and get excited to be at the rink every day because it's a long year."

Eichel has kept his excitement tempered, but fans and members of the Sabres organization are eager to see what he can do as a professional.

"I've been impressed ever since last year just watching [Eichel and Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid] through their seasons and everything," Randy Cunneyworth, coach of the Rochester Americans, Buffalo's American Hockey League affiliate said. "Just seeing the reaction of the fans is always a big thing. I was one of them. Even though, at the time we didn't even have Eichel, we were watching a pretty impressive player thinking we were getting someone else at that time.

"Obviously they're both good players that shine and I think the fans react every time they touch the puck because they make things happen out there. They're able to make plays, they're able to finish plays, and they do it with such flash and style. I think it's an exciting couple of players that we're going to enjoy for a long time."

Eichel already gave Sabres fans a look at what he can do during the Sabres development camp in July. During the intrasquad scrimmage in front of more than 17,000 fans at First Niagara Center, Eichel faced off against the Sabres second pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Sam Reinhart. Eichel and Reinhart will be teammates when the Sabres play the Devils on Saturday.

"It's definitely nicer playing with him," Reinhart said. "I'm sure we'll see each other on the ice at some point together. It's nice. Obviously we know each other well now, so to finally be able to play alongside him makes things a little easier."

Eichel and Reinhart were roommates during development camp in July and played against each other at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships when Eichel represented the United States and Reinhart went on to win gold for Canada in Toronto.

"Their friendships can develop and that's a huge thing that the rest of the players pick up on and that's part of the building process," Cunneyworth, who will coach the Sabres this weekend, said. "In terms of what each can add, I think there [are] little elements. They both are exciting players but they can also do things the other can't in certain areas. But, I think their ability to learn off each other will be great, too. I think they'll improve by watching each other and being buddies and that."

Eichel and Reinhart won't be linemates because they are both centers. Eichel skated with Boston University teammate Evan Rodrigues and Nicholas Baptiste and Reinhart was with Vaclav Karabacek and Justin Bailey on Friday. Those lines are unchanged from the development camp scrimmage in July and Cunneyworth said he expected those lines to stay together against New Jersey.

"I'm looking forward to it," Bailey said. "Any time you get to play with skilled guys like Sam and Jack and guys that we have in the organization, it's exciting."

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