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'Student of the game' Eichel embraces All-Star Weekend

Sabres captain discussed his hockey fandom at Media Day in St. Louis

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

ST. LOUIS - Jack Eichel has developed into one of the NHL's elite players. 

It shows in the statistics. His 28 goals - already matching his career-high - rank fifth in the NHL. His 21 goals at even-strength are tied for third, while his 62 points rank ninth. 

Without glancing at the numbers, simply tuning into a Buffalo Sabres game on any given night will show even the untrained eye that Eichel is no ordinary player. It shows in the way he skates from end-to-end with effortless strides, how he picks corners with speed, how he can fool even the best defenders with a sudden change of pace.

Yet, for as much as he's become one of the game's true stars, part of what's made him great is the fact that he's also remained one of its fans. It's why, attending this third straight All-Star Game at age 23, he's able to tell you in detail about what he learns from watching his peers on a nightly basis. 

Take Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, for example.

"I definitely take a lot of stuff from his game and watch the way he handles the puck or what he does when he doesn't have it," Eichel said. "There's a lot of things you can take from his game even him not being a centerman. I think his creativity, his ability to create things out of nothing. There's so much you can take from a guy like that."

Or there's Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon, another player who entered the league as a high draft pick at age 18 and took his production to another level in his fifth season.

"Just his ability to change speed and his attack mentality versus his pull up and make a play mentality," Eichel said. "I think that there's just so many things in his game that you can pick up on. He's a shooter, he's a passer, he can do it all. … He's probably one of the guys I would throw on every night to watch just because there's so much you can learn and it's so exciting to watch."

Video: Eichel on All-Star Weekend

Eichel considers himself a student of the game. He spends his downtime at home like any fan might, seeking out the league's best players on TV, though he sees them through a different lens. He's picking apart their games, looking to learn why they score, trying to detect patterns in their tendencies that he can add to his own repertoire. 

Before a game in Toronto last month, he told the media that he had teammate Rasmus Dahlin over his house a few nights prior. They spent the evening watching Dahlin's fellow Swede, Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks.

Pettersson is in St. Louis for All-Star Weekend, as are MacKinnon and Kane. It's the sort of company that keeps the All-Star experience enjoyable for Eichel, even entering his third straight event. 

"I think when you're on the ice with the guys and you're doing that, enjoying the Skills Competition and you're making jokes and you're hanging out, I think that that's the stuff that we really enjoy doing," he said. "I'm no different. First year, third year, you get excited for these events. It's an honor to be here with some of the best players in the league. I'm excited."

 

Fellow All-Stars discuss Eichel's game

When informed of Eichel's tendency to watch his games, MacKinnon offered high praise in return. 

"It's funny, Jack's one of [my favorites], too," he said. "You have breakfast watching highlights and he's on there every morning. He's really unique. He's effortless out there. It doesn't look like he's going that fast, but he's the fastest guy on the ice. Just effortless power. One of the best players in the league right now in general, so it's nice of him."

Kane played with Eichel at the IIHF World Championship on Team USA last May and said he could see the Sabres captain one day contending for a Hart Trophy.

"He's a guy that really carries that team and when he's on the ice, he has the puck a lot," Kane said. "He finds ways to get it back and really drives the play when he's out there. I saw that at Worlds, too. He's such a good skater, he's such a powerful skater. He's able to put guys on his back and hold onto the puck. It's a situation not many guys can do in the league. He's definitely an amazing talent."

Hear more from Eichel's fellow All-Stars in the video below. 

Video: Fellow All-Stars talk Eichel's ability

 

Eichel to compete in Fastest Skater Competition

Eichel will participate in the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater at Friday's skills competition, his third straight year in the event. Last year, he placed second to Connor McDavid with a time of 13.582 seconds. He finished third the previous year, behind McDavid and Brayden Point. 

Here's the full list of participants:

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers
Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators
Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers
Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks

The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills begins at 8 p.m. EST and can be seen on NBCSN. 

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