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Eichel eager to get started after busy offseason for Sabres

Hopes to be 'dominant' player after up-and-down start to NHL career

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Jack Eichel views the upcoming season as "a fresh start." It's something that's needed for the Buffalo Sabres after seven consecutive seasons without a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and more disappointments than victories.

"You've got a lot of new faces in the room. It was a long offseason, a lot to think about, a lot to process," Eichel said Friday before playing in the fourth annual Comm Ave Charity Classic, a game between Boston University and Boston College alumni to benefit the Travis Roy Foundation and Compassionate Care ALS. "But I'm just excited for another season.

"I think just the mood around the room and the mood talking to guys is a lot better. I think we're confident that if we do the right things, we can be more successful than we were the last few years. I think it's going to be a good year."

 

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It certainly has been a busy offseason for the Sabres, who selected defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, traded for forwards Conor Sheary and Jeff Skinner, sent center Ryan O'Reilly to the St. Louis Blues, and added goaltender Carter Hutton as a free agent.

And that's part of what has Eichel looking forward to the start of training camp.

"There's a lot of new faces in there," the 21-year-old center said. "So I think a lot of the people with a sour taste in their mouths from the last few years have either gotten over it or aren't in the locker room anymore. I think it's a good opportunity for us to just prove ourselves to the League and prove ourselves to ourselves."

One of those new faces is Dahlin, the extraordinarily talented defenseman who should bring an element to the Sabres that they haven't had of late. Eichel got a chance to see him in Buffalo earlier this week after spending some time with him earlier in the offseason.

"I've gotten to know him a little bit," Eichel said. "Obviously we're super lucky to have him. He's a franchise defenseman who's going to be on the highlight reels a lot and who's going to help our team. Just being on the ice with him this week, a lot stands out: his skill level, his mind for the game. He's also a really good person, and I think we're really excited to have him."

Video: Jack Eichel comes in at No. 15 on the list

The Sabres also know that a player like Dahlin can, as Eichel said, "change a franchise." Not by himself, but with the support of those around him.

Before he could think about the upcoming season, Eichel had to process what has happened in his time in Buffalo. This wasn't exactly what Eichel had envisioned for his first three seasons in the NHL after being taken with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Two of those seasons were cut short by ankle injuries, and none of them ended with a trip to the postseason.

"You think about what's went wrong the last few years," Eichel said. "What you can change individually and what we can change as a group. In terms of that, I think you're able to get a grasp of where we want to go as a team. I think we've had a lot of good meetings with the coaches and management and with ourselves. I think at this point it's time to go out there and play."

In that, the Sabres have some inspiration.

They watched the Colorado Avalanche bounce back after finishing with the worst record in the NHL in 2016-17 to make the playoffs in 2017-18. The New Jersey Devils finished with the third-worst point total in the NHL in 2016-17 and made the playoffs last season.

Video: BUF@NSH: Eichel records five helpers in Sabres' win

So there is hope for the Sabres. Especially if they -- including Eichel -- can remain healthy.

"I think you always have to be optimistic," Eichel said. "You look at teams last year like Colorado, New Jersey, teams that may have struggled the year before but had great years last year with making some changes and obviously I think maybe changing a mindset and creating a different culture. I think that those are some teams that we can try and model our season after."

For Eichel, there has been a lot of learning about where he fits in the NHL and where he fits on Buffalo, including whether he might be made the captain at some point. He said he doesn't think about that, knowing that there are many leaders in the dressing room, many more experienced guys.

There are other things to focus on, for now.

"There's been ups and downs," he said of his first three seasons in the NHL. "I think that there's been spurts in my career where I've played really well and there's spurts where I'd like to change, but I think I know the player I can be and know how dominant I can be. That's where I'm trying to get to."

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