The Fall temps may be cooling, but it’s heating up in Hockey Heaven with another impressive preseason victory for the Sabres. For the fifth game in a row the the team tallied a shorthanded goal coming from none other than BU phenom Jack Eichel who started off the scoring with a breakaway goal. Now some of us hockey bums may be used to seeing the fleet-footed skills of players like Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall, but what is so impressive about Eichel is that his skating is deceptively quick. Watching the video below, you can’t even tell he’s moving that fast until he’s gone (watch the defender for an object of reference as he’s taking almost double the strides to chase Eich). Is Eich Wally West or Barry Allen, either way this kid gives the Flash a run for his money.
Eichel was not the only standout in Tuesday’s game against the Leafs. His former Boston University teammate Evan Rodrigues scored two goals on four shots and finished the game as a +2. The undrafted Rodrigues excelled as Eichel’s linemate at BU and last night he showed the skill that caught GM Tim Murray’s eye in signing him. With the Sabres forward depth at a bit of a logjam, expect to see him wowing Amerks fans in Rochester, but easily slotting in as a forward call up in the bottom six for the Sabres this season.
Lastly, I hate to end on a negative tone because there’s so much to be positive about this season, but Leafs defensemen Dion Phaneuf landed a questionable and punishing hit on Brendan Guhle last night. We’ve seen this before and we will see it again. Phaneuf has a long history of sneakily getting away with cheap shots (Boarding Nathan Gerbe from behind just after he returned from back surgery) so this is nothing new to us. In the video below, obviously Guhle has a responsibility to keep his head up on this play, but isn’t some of the onus on Phaneuf for recognizing that Guhle is in a vulnerable position that could result in an ugly injury? Phaneuf’s feet also appear to leave the ice at the point of impact (watch closely) which is clearly a punishable infraction. Let’s get more eyes on this. I want to know what you think.
Phaneuf hit: a clean hockey-play or another cheap shot from “Princess Dion”?
For Sabres fans, the memories of a tanking team desperately searching for a top center and scoring depth are not far behind. After the tumultuous departure of beloved centers Chris Drury and Danny Briere it was obvious to everyone in Sabres nation that there was a glaring void at the pivot position. Former GM Darcy Regier attempted to fill this gap with an ill-conceived strategy of turning wingers (Boyes, Leino, Ennis) into premier centers. The bitter taste of those years of “suffering” may quickly be washed away with a wave of sweet victories.
Coach Bylsma gave Jack Eichel his first shot on the top line Saturday night in Ottawa playing with Tyler Ennis and new acquisition Evander Kane. Ennis put on a scoring clinic for the Sens scoring a hat trick and adding an assist. Ennis is clearly a player to watch this season as he hits the prime of his career. Sabres fans have seen flashes of his undoubtedly high talent ceiling throughout his career; all the while hoping to see what he can do when playing with true top line talent.
Eichel showed his skill at pivot playing between Ennis and Kane who both bring a different style of play to the game by adding two assists. Once again Eichel showed maturity and skill in all situations playing first line minutes against top competition. Evander Kane also added to the scoreboard with a goal and lived up to his power forward cred with three hits for the night. In the Kane-Eichel-Ennis line you have a skilled power forward, a slick all-around center, and a speedy skilled winger who can score the highlight reel goals.
A team that once had no top center depth has in the past few years developed a crop of players that give the Sabres an edge on their competition in the Eastern Conference and arguably the NHL as a whole: center depth, scoring depth, and a versatile roster of players who can step into multiple situations and contribute in different positions. Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Ennis, Jack Eichel, Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart, Brian Gionta, and Johan Larsson are all players who can easily be slotted in at center or wing when necessary. This is unique because not only do the Sabres have the long elusive center(s), they have a talent pool that will bring secondary scoring and players who can fill holes when injuries sideline players.
Sabres fans must note that although the glory days of the Drury-Briere team are gone, the future is extremely bright with a team that will not rely upon only one or two centers to be the core. This is a team after all that needs to function collectively in order to succeed and the roster that GM Tim Murray has assembled brings us the promise of victories to come in Hockey Heaven.
Fans in south central part of New York State have endured their own version of “suffering”, as their Elmira Jackals of the East Coast Hockey League have fallen to the bottom of their league standings this year, just two years removed from being at the top of the ECHL under their then Craig Rivet led squad.
Today the Buffalo Sabres announced that they have signed an affiliation agreement with Elmira as their lower level minor league affiliate. The Jackals, who began play in 2000 in the United Hockey League before moving to the ECHL, play at the 4000 seat First Arena in downtown Elmira. The venue is located approximately 140 miles from Buffalo, and with this move, all Sabres prospects will be housed within easy driving distance.
In a press release issued by the Sabres, team General Manager Tim Murray stated, “Proper development is essential in maintaining a competitive roster at the NHL level. Having Elmira as an additional source to develop our young talent will certainly help our entire organization going forward. We’re proud to have the Jackals as part of our organization and, with the Amerks in Rochester, we now have the added bonus of working with minor-league affiliates that are no further than 150 miles from Buffalo.”
For the Sabres, additional marketing synergies can certainly be found in Elmira, where they passionately embrace the sport of hockey, not only via the Jackals, but also the NCAA Division III Elmira College Soaring Eagles hockey program. The Jackals have changed ownership just recently, and Buffalo is the closest NHL team geographically to the “Twin Tiers” area of Corning and Elmira. On any given night at a Jackals game, abundant Sabres jerseys can be easily spotted, sprinkled throughout the stands at First Arena.
The East Coast Hockey League is the premier “AA” minor league of hockey with many affiliation agreements with parent NHL teams. With the Sabres presence in both Rochester and now Elmira, this news bodes well for the organization and their fans throughout upstate New York.