TAMPA - With a century-old pirate festival raging on the streets of Tampa in the afternoon, some of the best hockey players in the world are are prepping for a weekend-long celebration of the game starting tonight. Buffalo Sabres alternate captain Jack Eichel is one of 15 first-time All-Stars and is proud to be representing his club at the 2018 NHL All-Star Game.
"It's a huge honor. You look around the room at some of the guys that are here and just to be here with them, it's pretty special," he said. "Some of the guys here, I was watching play in the All-Star Game when I was a kid growing up. That's pretty cool."
WATCH: Jack and Duffer on Facebook Live
With a mix of perennial All-Stars like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Lundqvist participating, Eichel, at age 21 and in his third NHL season, joins Noah Hanifin, Zach Werenski and Brock Boeser as players from the 2015 NHL Draft class playing in their first All-Star Game. Eichel remembers
"There are a lot of young guys but you're always going to have the guys that have been here and basically paved the way for us. They're guys that I've watched and followed and tried to emulate my entire life," he said.
"So it's nice that you're starting to see some younger guys come in and make an impact on the league. And I think the league's giving younger players make that sort of impact right away. It's great to have some buddies here and some guys my own age."
Video: EICHEL: All-Star Media Day
Eichel will compete in the Fastest Skater Competition tonight during the NHL Skills Competition at Amalie Arena. His parents will be in attendance to watch him compete as well. Fans can tune in at 7 p.m. on NBCSN. The All-Star Game will take place on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. on NBC.
"I'm excited for anything," he said. "First timer, so whatever I have to do or whatever I get chosen for, I'm more than happy to do."
The Atlantic Division team includes Eichel, captain Steven Stamkos, Alexander Barkov, Nikita Kucherov, Brad Marchand, Auston Matthews, Brayden Point, Mike Green, Erik Karlsson, Carey Price and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Eichel comes into the weekend as a point-per-game player, with 49 points (20+29) in 49 games. All of those totals lead the Sabres. Since Dec. 15, the night he recorded a hat trick against Carolina he's totaled 25 points (12+13) over those 17 games. That run included a seven-game point streak, which came to an end Thursday night.
"There are points where we feel good about your game, but you're maybe not getting credit statistically like you'd want to. You just stick with it. It's a long season," he said. "There are lots of ups and downs, and highs and lows. You just try to balance off the two. When things are going good, ride it out. And when things are going tough, try to grind through it."
The Sabres entered the break with three wins in a row, including back-to-back shutouts over Edmonton and Vancouver.
"It's much easier to be here and enjoy it with a couple wins in a row, the team playing well and in good spirits," Eichel said. "It makes flights from Vancouver [to] home a lot easier and coming to the rink easier. It's a good feeling. You want to keep it going."
Buffalo will be back in action Tuesday night at home against New Jersey, but until then, Eichel is going to enjoy the weekend and the moment.
"It's special. I'm lucky to be here. And I'm happy about it," he said. "It's something I've obviously worked for, but credit to the guys in room and the organization for putting me in a good situation to be here."