SAN JOSE - Given the way their first 45 games as teammates went, it seemed fitting that Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner shared a podium when the NHL's brightest stars assembled for All-Star Media Day at City National Civil Auditorium on Thursday evening.
"It feels like we're back in the locker room," Skinner said, flashing the trademark smile that's become familiar to fans in Buffalo over the past five months.
Eichel and Skinner carved their paths to San Jose with a center-wing chemistry that's wrought comparisons to Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny. Eichel leads the Sabres and ranks 26th in the NHL with 52 points; Skinner is tied for second in the league with 30 goals. They've connected for 22 goals.
The Sabres last had multiple All-Stars in 2007, when Danny Briere, Brian Campbell and Ryan Miller were starters on a Lindy Ruff-coached Eastern Conference team. After serving as the team's lone representative last year, Eichel said it felt more special to have a teammate to share the experience with.
"Yeah, it is," he said. "Last year was an awesome experience and I had a great time. I think it just makes it that much more special that I can do it with Skins this time."
It was easy to imagine Skinner slotting in on Eichel's left wing as soon he was acquired from Carolina in August. Skinner had scored 30-plus goals three times during his eight-year career, making him an ideal candidate to play alongside a young, playmaking center.
Upon being acquired, Skinner cited Eichel and the rest of the Sabres' young core as having been a primary factor in his decision to waive a no-movement clause. That opinion has only grown in the months since.
"I think you get a little more appreciation when you get to see high-end, skilled players, players that are some of the best in the league. You get an appreciation where you get to see them every day," Skinner said.
"As an opposing player, you get to see sort of a snapshot, maybe a game here and there and maybe a couple highlights, but I think when you get to see it every day in practice, especially with the age of some of the guys, it sinks in a little bit more."'
Video: SKINNER: 2019 All Star Media Day
Eichel, meanwhile, described playing against Skinner the way most of his opponents do.
"He was just a pest," Eichel said. "He's a pest, yeah. I remember him always getting under our guys' skin. It just seemed like he so strong on the puck, it always found him.
"He's really good around the net. We only played him a few times a year, but it seemed like he always made a difference in the games we played against him."
Although Eichel and Skinner did start the season as linemates, they were split up for Game No. 2. It wasn't until their eighth game, in Los Angeles on Oct. 20, that the duo took off. Skinner scored a hat trick that afternoon, and they've remained side-by-side ever since.
"He's a great player. For me being a winger, you just try and read off him and it sort of gradually comes," Skinner said. "I think it's going to continue to improve, hopefully, as long as we play together. I think the more you play with a player of that caliber, the more you get to know where he likes that space, where he likes the puck, when he likes to have the puck and when he likes to get rid of it."
"I think whenever you have success it's easy to just think the chemistry came natural, but I think we've worked on it," Eichel added.
Video: EICHEL: 2019 All Star Media Day
The chemistry between Skinner and Buffalo has come naturally. He was selected to the Atlantic Division roster as the "Last Man In," which required winning a fan vote against seven other players.
"I think it just shows the passion of Sabres fans," he said. "I think, to me, I'm grateful that they probably put in a lot of work for that to happen and hopefully I can represent them well.
"He's a really likable guy, he has a good time, he plays hard and obviously he's had a lot of success this year," Eichel added. "So, I wouldn't say I'm too surprised that they've taken him in like they have."