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McDavid, Eichel already have had dazzling moments

by Mike G. Morreale
6 Games 5
3 Goals 2
2 Assists 0
5 Points 2
12 Shots on goal 12
27.9 (17/44) FOW% (W/L) 44.1 (26/33)
72 SATF 63
2.79 P/60 1.25
17:56 Avg. TOI 19:14

Now that Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel each have scored their first NHL goal, don't expect the pressure that comes with being the first two players picked in the 2015 NHL Draft to subside anytime soon.

But there has been some sense of relief that the two projected generational talents have cleared that hurdle early.

Eichel got his first, scoring Oct. 8 in the Sabres' season-opener. He took a pass from Marcus Foligno low in the left circle and ripped a high shot into the short-side corner with 10:49 left in the third period of a 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators. The call made by Sabres television broadcaster Rick Jeanneret was as exhilarating as the goal itself.

"It was a special moment; something I'll never forget," Eichel said that night. "But it's tough to really enjoy it when you don't win the game."

In the opener Eichel played a season-high 21:58, including 3:19 of power-play time, on 28 shifts. He had three shots on goal, one hit and won 6-of-12 faceoffs. Most recently he has been centering a line with Evander Kane and Brian Gionta.

Eichel's second goal of the season came in the third period of a 4-2 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 12. After a pass from the left side to the slot for Matt Moulson was kicked back toward the Blue Jackets blue line, Eichel curled back, bodied Boone Jenner off the puck at the left point, skated back to the left circle and fired a shot over the left shoulder of Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to give his team a 3-1 lead at 9:21.

"Jack was responsible for getting back on that play and he did," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma told WGR 550 AM radio in Buffalo. "He tracks hard away from the puck and gets there. Boone Jenner is not only a big guy but a strong guy and Jack bodies him out of the way and turns back to the net. It was a pretty improbable angle but a great goal. The whole play is a pretty remarkable sequence.

"The goal was great but it was everything leading up to it; his tracking, the back pressure and winning that puck back that made it possible."

On Oct. 13, McDavid became the sixth-youngest Oilers player to score his first NHL goal. It came in his third career game; three games also is the amount of time it took Hockey Hall of Fame member Wayne Gretzky (Oct. 14, 1979 against the Vancouver Canucks) and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby (Oct. 8, 2005 against the Boston Bruins) to score their first NHL goals.

At 12:18 of the second period in a 4-2 loss at the Dallas Stars, defenseman Andrej Sekera took a shot from the left point and McDavid, while sliding to the middle from the left side, tipped the puck past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.

McDavid played 16:20 against the Stars, including 1:19 of power-play time, on 24 shifts. He had three shots on goal and finished 3-for-9 on faceoffs.

Oilers coach Todd McLellan has experimented with his top two lines in the early stages of the season in hope of finding a good fit for McDavid; he currently is centering Benoit Pouliot and Nail Yakupov.

In six games McDavid he has three goals and two assists. His speed and intelligence make him a threat and a treat to watch each time he touches the puck.

In the Oilers' season-opener against the St. Louis Blues, McDavid showcased his incredible skill set on one dynamic rush in the third when he skated by Blues veteran defenseman and two-time NHL All-Star Jay Bouwmeester and curled around defenseman Alex Pietrangelo to record his first NHL shot on goal, that goalie Brian Elliott turned away at 1:53.

Against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 17, McDavid scored two goals and had an assist. His second goal of the season, off a wrist shot from the right circle, was dynamic in so many ways. After receiving a pass from Yakupov in the neutral zone, McDavid skated hard down his right wing, crossed the blue line and used Flames defenseman Kris Russell as a screen.

He created a marvelous opportunity for himself early in the third period when he stole the puck from Flames forward Micheal Ferland and stickhandled past Flames defenseman Deryk Engelland to create a scoring chance that goaltender Jonas Hiller barely stopped with the paddle of his stick. It was vintage McDavid, evoking memories of his days of the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League.

"That was best game yet from Connor," McLellan told the Edmonton Sun after the 5-2 win against the Flames. "He made an impact throughout the night. Had an impact on the score sheet and probably could have had even more of an impact with some of the chances he had. I thought he let himself go and kind of gave himself permission. Sometimes you have to do that to get after it. As a young player you don't have to give way to the veterans all the time; you're allowed to go out and take charge. And I thought he did that."


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