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Sabres' Eichel preseason pick for Calder Trophy

by Mike G. Morreale /

Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the first two players picked at the 2015 NHL Draft, are considered by many to be the frontrunners for the Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.

McDavid, chosen No. 1 by the Edmonton Oilers, said having an impact each shift, regardless of whether it results in a goal or not, is most important to him.

"Numbers are one thing, but some of the best games I ever played have been games in which I didn't get a point or maybe had one point," he said. "You don't necessarily have to put up a lot of points to be impactful. There are lots of ways you can impact a game, and that's something I take a lot of pride in, trying to impact the game in any way possible."

Eichel, selected No. 2 by the Buffalo Sabres, believes team success will lead to individual success.

"Obviously you want your team to have success," he said. "I think that's the most important thing, for us to win more games than we did last year and to feel good about ourselves. It seems like we're in this little rebuild, but there's a lot of really good pieces in the puzzle right now. I think we have big expectations in Buffalo. We want to win and that's what we're going to try and do."

Last season, Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad became the third No. 1 pick in eight seasons to win the Calder Trophy, following Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon in 2013-14 and Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane in 2007-08.

Will McDavid make it four in nine seasons? Or will Eichel become the second No. 2 choice in five seasons to claim the Calder Trophy? Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog won it in 2011-12.

The expectations are high for each, but more so for McDavid as the No. 1 pick and since Edmonton hasn't been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in nine seasons. There's a sense of a renewed energy within the Edmonton locker room and that certainly will bode well for McDavid.

The Sabres haven't qualified for the playoffs in four seasons, but Eichel might be in a better situation based on the players around him, among them veterans Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Brian Gionta, Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson. Eichel won't have to carry as much of the offensive workload, and though he might not be as skilled as McDavid he does appear physically ready for the next level.

McDavid and Eichel are incredible talents, so predicting who has the edge as a rookie may come down to health and who can withstand the rigors of an 82-game season. Eichel said he added 10 pounds during his offseason training to get up to 205 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame.

Another advantage Eichel might have is how quickly he bonded with his older Boston University teammates last season on the way to leading them in almost every statistical category while playing against bigger and older players.

It will be close, but Eichel is the preseason choice to win the Calder Trophy.


Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers -- He'll shoulder a heavy burden on a relatively young team with core members Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov all 25 and under. That's not to say Oilers coach Todd McLellan won't get the most out of McDavid, who could begin the season as the second-line center behind Nugent-Hopkins. It might be too farfetched to think that McDavid single-handedly can turn the Oilers into a playoff team as an 18-year-old. Still, he'll help improve an offense that finished 26th in scoring last season at 2.35 goals per game. A season that includes 70-plus points is a good possibility for McDavid.

Sam Bennett, C, Calgary Flames -- Bennett is expected to follow in the footsteps of teammates Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau as rookie success stories. The Flames are hoping Bennett will provide secondary scoring in a potential top-six forward role, and coach Bob Hartley has said he would like to keep Bennett at his natural center position instead of forcing him in at left wing. That would give the Flames a solid group down the middle of Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Bennett and Matt Stajan. Bennett has the ability, drive and smarts to get it done following shoulder surgery that limited him to one regular-season game last season. He scored three goals in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

ALSO IN THE MIX: Sam Reinhart, Buffalo Sabres; Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks; Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes


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