BUFFALO -- Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel has established himself as one of the top young players in the NHL, but according to him, he hasn't proven anything yet.
The 20-year-old had 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) in 61 games last season, his second in the League, when he missed the first 21 games of the season with a high ankle sprain.
"I think I have a lot to prove," he said on the opening day of training camp. "Actually I think I've proven nothing, so it's a huge year for me personally and as a team. We want to take the next step as a team, and for us to do that, we need some guys to take the next step as players, and I need to be one of them. I just need to step up around the room, on the ice, big situations for my team, and do more and prove that I can be our go-to guy."
Eichel's stats may look good, including 56 points (24 goals, 32 assists) in 81 games in his rookie season, but he said there's a lot more he and his teammates can do.
"If you look at what I've done, it hasn't been a whole lot; two mediocre seasons on a losing team," he said, "so we just need to be better as a group this year, and I think everyone went home with the mindset this summer that we wanted to get better and head into the season and hit the ground running.
"It's the third year, so if there's ever a time to start winning and being a good team in this league, it's right now. I think all the guys are pretty sick of losing and not playing in the playoffs. I don't think I'm the only guy; I think I can speak for a lot of guys in the room, that we've got to be there at the end of the year."
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The Sabres missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of Eichel's first two seasons and haven't been to the postseason since 2010-11. After Buffalo had 81 points in Eichel's rookie year, it had 78 points last season, which led to the Sabres firing general manager Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma and replacing them with GM Jason Botterill and coach Phil Housley.
"That's the end-all, be-all; you've got to be a playoff team and that starts now," Eichel said. "That's the ultimate goal; you want to be there at the end of the season and play in the postseason. I think that this city, this team, this organization is pretty starved for it. Changes needed to be made and we just need to do that."
Eichel, entering the final season of the three-year, entry-level contract he signed with the Sabres after being selected No. 2 in the 2015 NHL Draft, said he will not let that affect his play and is agreeable to continuing negotiations toward a long-term contract with Buffalo, even if talks continue into the season.
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"It's not really something that's too much on my mind," he said. "I've kind of left my agents to deal with it and told them that if we get a deal done before the season, we get it done. If we don't, it's not something I'm worried about. I'm pretty open to just playing and seeing what happens. I'm here and I just want to try and help this team win games.
"If I do that, I think the contract takes care of itself, and whether it's today, tomorrow, a month, eight months, who knows, it's not really something I'm too worried about right now. It is what it is."