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Sabres scrimmage draws 17,000 to see Eichel

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- The building blocks of the Buffalo Sabres future were on display at the annual Blue & Gold scrimmage Friday.

The Blue team, led by the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Sam Reinhart, defeated the Gold team, led by the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, Jack Eichel, 5-2 in front of 17,115 fans at First Niagara Center.

Eichel's first appearance for the Sabres in front of the fans in Buffalo came with a lot of attention. Eichel was drafted behind Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid after a season when they were the top two prospects. Eichel didn't score and did not have an assist Friday, but from the moment he took the ice, and throughout the game, he was the center of attention.

"It was good to get out there and play a game," said Eichel, whose Boston University season ended April 11 when it lost to Providence College in the NCAA championship. "It's a tough game to play. I feel like I've been bouncing around everywhere lately. I haven't been able to settle into a groove of training and skating. I haven't been on the ice as much as I wanted.

"There were good things; there were things I want to get better. Overall it was a great experience to play in front of the fans and wear that jersey for the first time in a game. It was a great experience."

The attendance was a Sabres record for the scrimmage.

"It was definitely an unbelievable crowd," Eichel said. "It's crazy to think there were 17,000 people here for a scrimmage in July, but like I said earlier, it says a lot about Buffalo and how passionate they are for the Sabres."

Reinhart had his chance to show how much his play has advanced since last season; he scored two goals and assisted on William Carrier's third-period goal.

"It took a while to start hitting the net," Reinhart said. "It's mid-July, and if that's my biggest problem, I'm pretty happy with that effort. Even when I did hit the net one time, that goalie somehow found it, but [Carrier] put it in the net, so that helped as well."

Reinhart and Carrier each had three points; Carrier assisted on each of Reinhart's goals. Reinhart also scored in the postgame shootout.

Carrier, a second-round pick (No. 57) by the St. Louis Blues in 2013, was acquired as part of the trade that sent goalie Ryan Miller and forward Steve Ott to St. Louis on Feb. 28, 2014.

"I was just telling the coaches that at one point I got a little jealous I wasn't down on the bench and in the action, but watching upstairs, there was a lot to see," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "A lot of good players, a lot of good things happening on the ice, and I think Reinhart and his line, [defenseman] Jake McCabe played a great game.

"I had pushed my chips in for the other team and I got some good goaltending to start from the blue team. I thought [Carrier] showed his speed on that line with Reinhart and [Hudson] Fasching. They were the best three out there tonight."

Eichel faced off against Reinhart often. It wasn't the first time the two met as opponents; they faced each other on Dec. 31, 2014 during the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, a game also won by Reinhart when Canada defeated the United States 5-3.

"It's been a long week and a lot going on. That's not as explosive as [Eichel] can be," Bylsma said. "I was hoping to see a blast of explosion. He had a couple times in the first period where he did have that, [but] didn't get the puck to make it work. [Sabres general manager] Tim Murray and myself were going Canada vs. U.S. with Eichel and Reinhart. About halfway through, I didn't concede. They weren't head-to-head the whole game, but Sam's line was the best and got the best of that matchup."

The Sabres will have Saturday off and close development camp Sunday with a 3-on-3 tournament.

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