Not since the Sabres selected Gilbert Perreault with the franchise’s very first draft pick has the city of Buffalo and the Sabres fan base been so excited about a player. The amount of hype surrounding the Hobey Baker winner has reached new heights and expectations are sky-high. The term “generational” is used regularly to describe the potential that he has.
And so it begins…
We are now officially 20 games into the Jack Eichel era and I figured I would take this time to do some Eichel related number crunching. I plan to do this same analysis every 20 games for the next 15 years, so buckle up and enjoy the ride!
We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from the now 19 year old phenom. But how good has he been relative to other top picks and other stars around the league?
Let’s start by looking at Eichel’s progression itself. We’ll do this by comparing the block of his first 10 games to the block of his second 10 games.
A couple things stand out right away. First, he scored the same number of goals in each block on relatively the same number of shots and ice time. So the level of his own involvement was approximately the same. But the goose egg in the assist column for the first 10 games shows that maybe he wasn’t doing enough to get his linemates involved. In the 2nd ten game block, he started to do just that, and as a result, he added assists to his repertoire and his point total increased from doing so. Eichel’s defensive awareness also appears to have improved, due to the stark improvement in plus/minus. Looking at the picture beyond Eichel, the team improved, going from 3-7-0 to over .500 (5-3-2) in the second stretch of games. Some of that may be attributed to Eichel’s improvement, but also the improved play of his teammates.
Overall, Eichel’s numbers were definitely more complete in the 2nd set of games than in the first.
But that takes us to the biggest question of all, is Jack Eichel living up to the hype? Where does his performance after 20 games rank when compared to other top picks and today’s stars. The former being a group he will forever be compared to and the latter being the group that Sabres fans hope we see him in for years to come.
Let’s start by comparing Eichel’s first 20 games to the first 20 games of all other forwards drafted with either the 1st or 2nd overall pick in the last 10 drafts. Please note that only players that have completed their first 20 NHL games are included in this comparison, leaving Connor McDavid out of the chart (for now).
**A Green Background and Lettering represents the best statistic in each category, while a Pink Background with Red Lettering represents the worst.
Out of 14 forwards that have been drafted with either the 1st or 2nd overall pick in the last 10 drafts (and have played in 20 games), Jack Eichel ranks 7th in terms of points with 10. Buffalo native Patrick Kane and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are the only 2 to average at least a point per game in their 1st 20 games, with van Riemsdyk and Tavares falling just short.
Eichel did have the highest ice time per game (19:01) of the whole group, which suggests that he is fulfilling the expectations of somebody much more important than you or I, his coach Dan Bylsma. He is also generating a good number of scoring chances, with 67 shots in 20 games. He is on pace for 275 shots for the year, a number that would have ranked him 9th in the NHL last season.
His plus/minus is towards the bottom of the heap, but as we discussed earlier, we’ve seen significant improvement in that category of late. The other area that he shows up towards the bottom on is team record. With as bad as the Sabres were for the last couple years, that was to be expected. As a group they aren’t where they want to be in the standings just yet, but they are certainly headed in the right direction.
We may have expected Eichel to compare more favorably to the other players on this list. None of them, with the possible exception of Tavares and Kane, were considered to be “generational” players. So what gives? Why isn’t Eichel sitting atop this list with 25 points? Give him time. It’s way too early to be disappointed in the results. His future is still as bright as it was when Tim Murray called his name at the Draft this summer.
As I said before, Eichel will always draw comparisons to other high draft choices, including the guy up in Edmonton. No matter how successful he is or isn’t, those comparisons will always be there. But Sabres fans shouldn’t care about those comparisons. The end goal wasn’t to be a high draft pick. The end goal is to have Jack Eichel be a star in this league. Maybe a perennial All-Star. Hopefully a Stanley Cup Champion. So how does his start compare to people that have made it to the heights that we want Jack to reach?
Let’s look at the first 20 games of 10 of today’s stars. THIS is who we want Jack Eichel to be. This list has it all… Stanley Cup Champions, Art Ross Trophy winners, Hart Trophy winners, etc.
** No game by game TOI is available from when Joe Thornton was a rookie in 1997
So how does Eichel compare to these stars? Not too bad really.
To be fair, let’s take away Malkin, Crosby and Ovechkin (who are top 3 in every individual category, except TOI where Crosby falls just below Eichel). Those three guys are clearly miles above everybody else, including Eichel. What incredible starts they each had. Ovechkin had 15 goals on 107 shots and both Crosby and Malkin had 24 points.
When we take away the big three, Eichel compares favorably to a still rather impressive list. He is either 1st or 2nd in goals, shots, powerplay goals, TOI and game winning goals (albeit just one). The only three statistics that Eichel falls towards the bottom in are plus/minus (which we have already covered twice), assists (which we also touched on), and team record (which is clearly not a result of just his efforts).
Can we say that Eichel is living up to his “Generational” hype? I would say not yet. The true generational players (Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, and maybe Kane) really stand out in these comparisons. And the truth is, Eichel doesn’t.
Does that mean that Eichel won’t be a “Generational” player when it’s all said and done? Of course not. He has all the talent that he needs, and the points will pile up. He’s only 19, and he is playing on a team that was one of the worst in decades the last few years. He, like the Sabres, will only going to get better and better.
Patience is a virtue. Look no farther than Joe Thornton. Jumbo Joe is the ultimate example of an extremely slow start that turned into a franchise center. Thornton is now 35th all time in NHL scoring with 1273 points. Not too shabby for a guy that failed to register a point in his first 21 games. Eichel scored a goal in his 1st game.
Enjoy the ride, fellow Sabres fans… We’ve got ourselves a good one, and just maybe he’ll turn out to be a great one.
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LET’S GO BUFFALO!