Jack Eichel and Matt Moulson, according to Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, should be a natural pairing on the ice. Moulson is a player who thrives from being around the blue paint; if he can get the puck in front of the net, he can usually find the back of it. Eichel, meanwhile, is a center with the speed, vision and tremendous passing ability.
The two were paired on a line along with Zemgus Girgensons at the outset of Training Camp on Friday, but the chemistry between them goes beyond their on-ice skill sets.
Off the ice, the 18-year-old Eichel, selected second overall in June, has been living with Moulson and his family since the beginning of September.
“Hopefully I’ll get the chance to play with Matt. Obviously he’s had a lot of success in the NHL and we have some pretty good chemistry off the ice because we spend a lot of time together,” Eichel said. “I’m thinking that’ll translate to on the ice. It usually does, just trusting him and I want to get him the puck because he can shoot it.”
So, are Eichel’s living arrangements contingent on feeding the puck to the veteran forward?
“Yeah, every night at dinner, that’s what he says,” Eichel joked.
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The decision to house Eichel was an easy one for Moulson and his wife Alicia, who together have two children under the age of 4. In fact, Bylsma said that it was on Draft Day when Moulson texted Sabres management to offer the idea.
“To be honest, I don’t think it was something we thought about long at all,” Moulson said. “We saw a young kid that maybe would benefit from living with a family. And my wife, she takes care of me a lot so she’s always looking for someone else to take care of as well.”
For Eichel, the proposition demanded more thought. As a rookie still trying to earn a spot on the NHL roster, he didn’t want to make any long-term plans prior to securing his immediate future in Buffalo. But so far, he says, the decision to accept was a good one.
“It’s really good. You learn a lot from him, if you know Matt at all he handles himself on and off the ice so well, just how he goes about his business day-to-day. As a young guy coming in, it’s someone that you can look up to and really learn the ropes from,” Eichel said.
Eichel’s teammates are already noticing his comfort level with the veteran Sabres, a transition that defenseman Mike Weber attributes at least in part to the young player’s living arrangements.
“I think it was a huge step for him moving in with Moulson, there’s not a better guy,” Weber said. “Moulson’s one of the best guys in our locker room and he mentored Johnny T. there with the Islanders. Just that step from Eichel saying ‘I’m going to live with this guy,’ I think that says a lot about his maturity.”
The “Johnny T.” that Weber speaks of is Islanders forward John Tavares, who came into the league as a highly-touted prospect after being taken by New York with the top overall pick in the 2009 draft.
Moulson helped with Tavares’ development that season; that season the two linemates combined for 102 points.
Moulson went on to score 30 goals in each of the three full seasons he spent with Tavares and the Islanders. Bylsma was the head coach of the Penguins during that time, so he saw the pair enough for it to have an influence on his decision to play Moulson alongside Eichel.
While it’s too early for Moulson to make any direct comparisons, the unique talent level of Eichel already reminds him of the skill that Tavares exhibited as a 19-year-old rookie.
“I think you can see that from what he’s accomplished so far,” Moulson said, “but I think all you can say right now is they’re both, at this age, talents that don’t come around too often.”