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Eichel ready for more responsibility with Sabres

Forward eager to embrace bigger leadership role after agreeing to eight-year contract extension

by Joe Yerdon / Correspondent

BUFFALO -- When Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel agreed to an eight-year, $80 million contract extension Tuesday, it completed an offseason filled with questions about when the deal would get done.

The Sabres officially announced Eichel's new contract that starts with the 2018-19 season Wednesday, and it's as much a reason to celebrate as it is to breathe a sigh of relief.

"It's definitely been a whirlwind for me the past 24 hours," Eichel said Wednesday. "Sitting here right now, I don't think I'd ever imagine this. I'm looking at my 21st birthday in a few weeks, I never imagined I'd have the opportunity to do this, to play hockey for a living … I just look forward to being a part of this city for the next nine years and all the successes we're going to have." 

Eichel has 113 points (48 goals, 65 assists) in 142 NHL games, including 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) last season after missing the first 21 games with a high-ankle sprain sustained the day before the season opener. This time, there's a reason to be excited and hopeful for the future with the Sabres set to begin the regular season against the Montreal Canadiens at KeyBank Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG-B, TSN2, RDS, NHL.TV).

Video: Jack Eichel talks about his new contract

"There have been a lot of ups and downs, and I think you can look at something like that and the adversity you go through with an injury and not being able to be out there helping your team, you can look at it negatively or positively," Eichel said. "You learn a lot about yourself and you learn a lot about going through adversity, and I think that in many ways I'm better for it … It's been a bit of a roller coaster this past year, but more than anything I'm just excited I get to lace up my skates and play hockey [Thursday]. That's what it's all about and that's what I'm most excited for."

Eichel's extension is the largest in Sabres history. Given that Eichel is entering the final season of his entry-level contract, he wasn't scheduled to become a restricted free agent until July 1. Eichel and Sabres general manager Jason Botterill wanted to avoid having the situation unresolved until then.

"Through the whole process I thought the goal for both parties was to get a deal done, and I think I respected their side, they respected some of our concerns from our side," Botterill said. "I think it's a situation where leading up to the last couple weeks we talked about the possibility of getting it done before the start of the season would be best for all parties involved.

"At the end of the day there was compromise on both sides and it's a situation where we want to make sure four, five years from now Jack and his family are very excited about being in Buffalo and being very comfortable with the contract. And I think [Eichel's agents Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli] felt the same way from the Buffalo Sabres side. We came to an agreement and woke up this morning, and I think both sides are excited about the situation. So to me it was a perfect deal."

Video: Discussing Eichels new deal

Eichel, 20, was the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft behind Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. McDavid signed an eight-year, $100 million contract extenstion, and average annual value of $12.5 million, on July 5.

Eichel's extension has a $10 million annual NHL salary cap charge, and part of him becoming a better leader meant agreeing to a contract that could help the Sabres sign helpful players in the future. He also knows that with big money comes big responsibility and the challenge of living up to the standards it sets. 

"With or without the contract that was my goal coming into camp, to be a leader, to be a guy others could rely on and try to push our team and organization to the next level," Eichel said. "I want to be that person; I want to take on more responsibilities. Obviously when something like this happens, it maximizes that and you could be under more of a microscope. There are so many great leaders in that room and so many great people in this city and the organization, I just try to be myself and be the best player I can be every day and be the best teammate."

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