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Sabres' Eichel scores game-winner in prospects finale

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO – Buffalo Sabres rookie forward Jack Eichel gave the fans at First Niagara Center a lot to think about heading into training camp with his performance against the Boston Bruins on Monday.

Eichel, the second pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, scored the game-winning goal with 37 seconds left in overtime that gave the Sabres a 3-2 win in the finale of the Sabres' Prospect Challenge.

Eichel took the puck up the right wing side and skated past Bruins forward Anton Blidh before he took a wrist shot that got past Bruins goalie Zane McIntyre on the far side of the net.

"We're on the bench after a long shift in our own zone and the coach [Randy Cunneyworth] asked if I had anything left and I figured I could go out there and see what I could do," Eichel said. "It's nice having [Sam Reinhart] and [Brendan Guhle] out there too; two guys you can trust. [Guhle] and [Reinhart] make a good play on the 2-on-1 coming back our way and [goalie C.J. Motte] deflects the puck into the corner. I just tried to protect it down the ice and I was able to get a shot off and luckily it went in."

Eichel's game-winner came during the 3-on-3 overtime period and saw him on the ice with Reinhart, who was the Sabres' 2014 first-round draft pick. Cunneyworth switched Nicholas Baptiste with Reinhart on Eichel's line along with Eichel's former Boston University teammate, Evan Rodrigues, late in the second period and kept them together through the remainder of the game.

"I think the poise of Sam and the ability of [Eichel] to finish some of the plays, they complement each other," Cunneyworth said. "They're guys that see each other and see the ice very well. It's a natural pairing. And Rodrigues, he's a guy that can finish and has that tenacity as well."

That line helped the Sabres turn the game around after they were down 2-0 after the first period. Sabres forward Vaclav Karabacek made it 2-1 in the second period, but it was when Bruins forward Zachary Senyshyn took a holding penalty late in the third when Eichel helped tie the game.

Eichel received a pass from defenseman Jake McCabe and set up in the faceoff circle to the right of McIntyre. Eichel then floated a saucer pass across the zone through the Bruins defense to defenseman Brycen Martin, who scored on a one-timer with 5:45 left in the period.

"I don't think I'm ever going to forget that pass. It was so perfect," Martin said. "He can make plays that some pros can't. At such a young age, it's such an exceptional talent. He just brings the energy everywhere. In the room and off the ice and even on the ice, he's a true diamond and Buffalo is going to be real happy with him in the future."

The quality of Eichel’s pass wasn't lost on his coach.

"I think it's the manner in which he does it. There's calm, there's poise – it's thought out beforehand," Cunneyworth said. "That's a pass that might not make it if you don't elevate it a little bit or find that perfect sweet spot. It's pure ability."

Eichel finished with three points in two games during the inaugural Prospects Challenge and helped the Sabres win both. Buffalo defeated the New Jersey Devils 6-2 on Saturday. Eichel's performance against the Bruins, however, gave him a good jumping off point before training camp begins later this week.

"[Eichel] knows when he wants the puck and knows what he wants to do with it before he gets it," Guhle said. "I think that's a key to have on the power play and it's fun being out there with a special player such as him."

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