BUFFALO -- Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, the second pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, on Wednesday became the first player from his draft class to sign a three-year, entry-level contract.
The decision ended speculation over whether Eichel would turn pro or return to Boston University for a second season.
"I'm super excited to be a part of this organization," Eichel said. "I signed today and that makes it official that I'll be leaving school and pursuing my career in professional hockey, and I couldn't be more excited about it. Looking at the Sabres organization, there's such a bright future here and it seemed like a no-brainer. It's my dream to potentially be playing professional hockey and I'm going to do everything in my power to make an impact on the Sabres next year."
Eichel's one college season was memorable. He scored 26 goals and had 71 points in 40 games. He won the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in college hockey and helped BU win the Hockey East regular-season and tournament championships and reach the NCAA championship game, where it lost to Providence College.
"Looking at both scenarios, I think there were pros and cons in each, but I think I need to challenge myself a little more," Eichel said. "Ever since I was 4 years old, this is all I ever wanted. Everything I've done my entire life is to be a professional ice hockey player. Looking at the opportunity the Sabres have given me, to be a part of this organization, I think it was kind of a no-brainer. This is where I want to be."
What helped Eichel reach his decision to go pro was his time spent playing for the United States at the 2015 IIHF World Championship. There he got to play against some of the top players in the world, including Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin.
"Playing at that level, I was able to get some confidence," Eichel said. "It's not the NHL, but there were a lot of great players over there, and being able to compete with them, I gained confidence in myself and my own abilities. With the right attitude and good work ethic this summer, I can make an impact next year."
One of Eichel's coaches for the United States was new Sabres coach Dan Bylsma.
"You see him play at World Championships and you see him play against NHL players, and play against good NHL players, and he did it at a high level," Bylsma said. "I had the opportunity to coach him for three weeks. Do I know he needs to improve in some areas of his game? Definitely. Are there things he can get better at? Yes, but the speed and the skill and the speed at which he can play and the level he can play with that speed was shown against good players."
The maturity Eichel, 19 in October, showed at the World Championship and in speaking at this press conference were prime examples of what the Sabres have seen from him and why they signed him so soon. The first round of the draft was last Friday.
"For the accolades he's had for the past couple years and a lot of people paying attention to him, I'm not sure I could've kept an even keel at that age. That really impresses me about him," Sabres general manager Tim Murray said. "And the fact that he talks about how he has to make our team and things like that. Nothing's a given to him or his family, and I think that bodes well for us, certainly, as an organization. I think it bodes well for him when he does get another level of success, at the NHL level of individual and team success, that you know what, he's going to be still a good guy, he's still going to be down to earth, he's still going to be able to come out here and talk to you guys or talk to people on the street.
"You can see in kids pretty quickly if they're legit or not, and I believe he's legit, and we're very pleased with that."
Eichel is arguably the key player to the Sabres rebuild. He will join Ryan O'Reilly, acquired last week in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche; Sam Reinhart, the second pick in the 2014 draft; and 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game top vote-getter Zemgus Girgensons up the middle this season. That group gives Buffalo impressive depth.
"There's a lot of great players in this organization right now," Eichel said. "I think that's why everyone in Buffalo is excited about the future of this team. [The Sabres have] a lot of good pieces, and I think now we all have to just put it together and start having success. I think that's what people want to see and that's what everyone wants. The organization has done a really good job of acquiring good players and developing young guys. It's a really bright future in this city."