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Eichel honored, humbled to be named captain of Sabres

Forward will become the 28th player to wear the "C" for Buffalo

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Jack Eichel was at home cooking dinner on Tuesday night when he answered a phone call from coach Phil Housley, who told him to return to KeyBank Center. 

Eichel made the quick drive to the rink, where he met with Housley, general manager Jason Botterill and team owner Terry Pegula. Together, they broke the news: Eichel would be the 19th full-time captain of the Buffalo Sabres, and the 28th player to wear the "C" in franchise history.

What followed, Housley said, was an intimate conversation about expectations and the task ahead. Following his first practice as captain on Wednesday, Eichel seemed up to the challenge.

"Really, really humbling moment," Eichel said. "I'm so honored that I'm in the conversation, first of all, to be leader in this group and then obviously to be a captain, it's an incredible honor. I don't think I would've been given this opportunity if it wasn't for the other leaders in this room that have pushed me to be better and have taught me a lot about myself.

"... It's a great honor and obviously with the direction that we're going, we spoke at lengths about how invested I am in this city and this organization and it's an unbelievable feeling. I'm just excited about the season."

Video: CAPTAINCY: Eichel

Eichel becomes the first player to serve as captain of the Sabres since Brian Gionta wore the "C" from 2014-15 to 2016-17. He served as an alternate captain last season along with Zach Bogosian and Kyle Okposo, both of whom will serve as alternates again this season. 

Housley said he began noticing captain-like tendencies in Eichel when he spoke to the media at the end of last season, when Eichel accepted responsibility for the team's disappointing year and vowed to make whatever changes necessary to turn the franchise around.

Eichel kept his word during the summer, working with other members of the Sabres' leadership group to implement change in the dressing room, which carried into training camp. The decision to name him captain was eventually made with input from Botterill, but also from the people around the team day in and day out. The equipment staff, trainers, coaching and performance staffs were all involved. 

"The biggest task a young captain has is just leading by example," Housley said. "He's got to set the tone not only in practices but in the games. I believe Jack has really shown that in the short amount of time from training camp leading up until today.

"… I think it's exciting. I think it's exciting for not only me, our players and our coaching staff, but our city. I think he represents everything we want as far as our organization goes."

Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Housley

Housley emphasized that the Sabres will need to embrace leadership by committee in order to be successful, and that goes beyond Eichel, Bogosian and Okposo. Carter Hutton, Jason Pominville, Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella are all players who have established themselves as part of the team's leadership group.

Pominville - a former Sabres captain - and Okposo shared the same advice with Eichel: Don't feel the need to change. 

"The biggest thing to me is just be yourself," Pominville said. "You've had success for certain reasons. Don't try to overdo things because guys can read through that. The biggest thing for him is just be yourself. I've told him that and I think he will."

 "I think for him, it's just to be who he is," Okposo added. "He's a young guy, he's passionate and he's a hell of a hockey player. As long as he's the hardest working guy day-in and day-out, he's going to be just fine. I have no doubt that he's going to be."

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: Building a legacy. #SabresJack Eichel is your Buffalo Sabres captain.

Eichel reflected on how he's changed over his three seasons in the league, beginning as a skilled player with endless ambition but little direction and maturing into the leader he is today. Exactly one year removed from the day he signed an eight-year contract extension and pronounced his long-term committement to the city of Buffalo, he furthered that commitment on Wednesday.

"I'm just so humbled and honored to be named the captain of this organization," he said. "It's a great moment and I'll definitely remember it. I just want to make the most of every opportunity, every day we have here. This organization, we've got to win a Stanley Cup. I want to be the guy that does it. 

"[It will take] small steps, but you've got to get started somewhere. I think we're headed in the right direction, and the first step's tomorrow."

Wednesday's practice

Remi Elie skated with the team for the first time after being acquired off waivers from Dallas on Wednesday, rotating with Zemgus Girgensons on the fourth line alongside Pominville and Evan Rodrigues.

Elie, 23, was a second-round pick by Dallas in 2013. He scored 14 points (6+8) in 72 games last season.

"I'm excited about Elie," Housley said. "He's a tenacious forechecker. He can get on the forecheck, he finishes check, he plays some penalty. … A lot of people don't give him credit for what he feels offensively. He knows what he's going to do before he gets it. He can make plays in tight areas."

Bogosian remained absent from practice with a lower-body injury but did skate on his own. He remains day-to-day. 

Here's how the team lined up in its entirety:

53 Jeff Skinner - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
43 Conor Sheary - 10 Patrik Berglund - 72 Tage Thompson
17 Vladimir Sobotka - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 21 Kyle Okposo
28 Zemgus Girgensons / 81 Remi Elie - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 29 Jason Pominville

6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
19 Jake McCabe - 26 Rasmus Dahlin 
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 8 Casey Nelson
5 Matt Tennyson

40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark

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