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Travis Roy following progress of Eichel, McDavid

by Mike G. Morreale

Travis Roy has a hard time imagining just how good Buffalo Sabres rookie center Jack Eichel can be playing top minutes with even more NHL mentoring and coaching.

"Jack is as strong as can be, but there is a difference between the boy body and the man body," Roy said. "It'll be interesting when he gets to be 23, 24 years old, and he's a little broader. I can't imagine what Jack's going to do when he gets into that body."

Roy watched how impressive Eichel looked in his Hobey Baker-winning season at Boston University in 2014-15. He's always taken advantage of any opportunity to watch the Terriers, his alma mater.

Roy is the only player in the history of the men's ice hockey program to have his number retired by the Terriers, despite the fact he only played 11 seconds. He shattered his fourth and fifth vertebrae on his first shift as a freshman on Oct. 20, 1995, paralyzing him from the neck down.

Roy has been following the progress of Eichel and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid with great interest this season. Unfortunately, McDavid's season was put on hold after he sustained a broken left clavicle against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 3. McDavid had successful surgery the following day and general manager Peter Chiarelli expects him to miss months.

"I was upset [after the injury], there's no other way to put it," McDavid said Monday. "But these things happen, it's hockey, it's a fast game and people get hurt. It's unfortunate but it'll heal and I'll get back out there as soon as possible."

McDavid, named the NHL rookie of the month for October, has five goals and seven assists in 13 games. The injury certainly opens the door wide open for Eichel and a few other top first-year players to gain more of the rookie spotlight.

McDavid missed eight weeks with a hand injury last season with the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League. He had 24 goals and 58 points over 24 games when he returned to the lineup.

"It was a different injury last season [with Erie] but you get a sense for what you did to come back and feel good," McDavid said. "I came back and felt I didn't miss a beat. I'll be out a little longer this time but hopefully I'll come back strong."

Roy, now a motivational speaker, author and activist in the cure for spinal cord injuries, still enjoys talking about and analyzing players in the NHL. In Eichel, he sees something very special.

"I was just amazed how complete a player he was at such a young age at Boston University," Roy said. "I was amazed with how much better he got from the beginning of the season to the end. I've just never seen somebody that is that good at 17 years old.

"The other thing is, I just can't believe Connor McDavid was that clear-cut better than Eichel (in their draft year)," Roy said. "I'm obviously a little biased toward Eichel, but if Connor is that much better, fantastic. I can't wait to see that too."

Roy believes Eichel will begin to stand out from the rest of the rookie pack in short order.

"He'll separate himself from other players just because of his skating and shot," he said. "I remember when Joe Thornton came into the League as this scrawny tall kid and it took him several years to grow into his body. [Eichel] is coming in a lot more prepared than Thornton, but there still is that transition physically and it's going to be really fun to watch."

Eichel put together a three-game point streak last week when he connected for two goals and five points. His power-play goal in a 4-1 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 10 was special in that not only did he call for the puck in the left circle, but he was able to slap a shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy with little room to spare inside the left post.

Roy also feels the change in rules allowing the game to become more offensive-minded will only benefit Eichel as he becomes more adjusted and comfortable in his role.

"The rules that got rid of the clutching and grabbing and that allow players like Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid to move up the ice without having guys holding onto them is great," Roy said. "It's a more enjoyable game to watch. When Paul Kariya burst upon the scene he was unbelievable, but all the clutching and grabbing took away the beauty of what he brought to the ice."


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