Jack Eichel missed 21 games to open 2016-17 due to a high-ankle sprain, but upon his return, he showed why he's a franchise player for the Sabres. He scored 12 points in his first 15 games back, but really hit his stride in February and finished the season with 36 points in his final 33 games. Had Eichel played the full season, he was on pace for 32 goals and 76 points on 334 shots, which would've placed him ninth overall in league scoring and first in shots. One minor point of concern is Eichel's home-road split; he scored 36 points in 31 games at home, but just 21 in 30 games on the road, when opposing coaches were able to match their top defensive players against him more readily. The "McDavid or Eichel?" question from the 2015 draft has been answered twice: first, when Connor McDavid was selected ahead of Eichel with the first overall pick, and then when he scored 100 points and led his team to the playoffs while Eichel finished with a minus-13 rating for a poor Buffalo squad. Nevertheless, Eichel is undoubtedly Buffalo's leading offensive force and a candidate to finish among the top 10 in league scoring.
Eichel scored the game-winner in overtime and also assisted on both of Jason Pominville's goals Tuesday against Pittsburgh. It's only a preseason game, but Eichel's spectacular effort may force general manager Jason Botterill to give in to his contract demands as negotiations on an extension continue. It looks like head coach Phil Housley has already found a scoring line he can lean on with Evander Kane on the left and Pominville on the right, and all three players are poised to have bounce-back seasons after disappointing campaigns last year. Eichel is an elite fantasy performer and worth drafting in the first few rounds in all formats.
General manager Jason Botterill believes the Sabres and Eichel will come to terms on a contract extension sooner than later, the Olean Times Herald reports. "Both parties would like to get a deal done," said Botterill in the report, even though it's still uncertain when that will be. Eichel has expressed an interest in returning to Buffalo and said he's okay with playing out the season without an extension, but it's in the interest of both parties to come to terms on a long-term deal. Despite being hobbled by a high-ankle sprain last year, Eichel was a dynamic offensive force on the Sabres upon his return, finishing 19th in the league with 249 shots on goal despite missing 21 games. He's the Sabres' franchise forward and worth picking in the early rounds in any fantasy format. A 30- or 40-goal season is not out of the question for the talented sniper.
According to Eichel's agent, contract talks with the Sabres are "not the main focus" as training camp approaches, theScore reports. Eichel is entering the final year of his entry-level contract this season, and the 2015 draft's second overall pick is due for a big raise after scoring at least 20 goals and 55 points in each of his first two seasons in the NHL. The Oilers signed Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year, $68 million contract after his rookie deal, and Eichel's camp may use that as leverage for negotiations. There's little doubt Eichel will be Buffalo's No. 1 scoring option, but it looks like new general manager Jason Botterill will take a wait-and-see approach before committing to an expensive, long-term extension.
Eichel is free to negotiate a contract extension with the Sabres beginning Saturday, and new Sabres GM Jason Botterill has expressed how important he feels the center is to the club, The Buffalo News reports. "Our conversations over the last month or so with (agent) Peter Fish have gone very well," Botterill said. "It's a situation of understanding we've had a lot going on in the organization, but we've clearly told Peter we understand how important Jack is to our organization here moving forward." The supremely talented pivot voiced his frustration with the Sabres coaching staff when Dan Bylsma was behind the bench, and in April, Eichel went as far as saying he wouldn't sign an extension -- he has one year remaining on his entry-level deal -- if Blysma was to return next season. As it turns out, the admonishment worked in Eichel's favor and Buffalo wound up replacing not only Blysma, but general manager Tim Murray as well. Despite being in the league for just two years and counting, Eichel has tremendous leverage with this franchise; he'll likely net a huge contract this summer after adding 113 points (48 goals, 65 assists) in 142 games between seasons one and two.
Eichel is eligible to sign a contract extension this summer, but has "no desire" to do so if Dan Bylsma remains head coach, WGR 550 reports. The Sabres were disappointing this season, failing to make any major improvements despite an impressive core of young players. Rumors of Eichel's frustration began to surface late in the year, and general manager Tim Murray echoed similar thoughts during his final press conference, taking some of the blame but also criticizing Bylsma for not talking to the players enough. Keep in mind, though, that this development came from anonymous "inside sources"; Eichel has never explicitly stated that he won't re-sign if Bylsma is still the head coach. It's important to note Eichel has one more year on his rookie deal remaining, and he'll have to honor his contract regardless of who's behind the bench. Whatever the reasons for Eichel's frustrations may be, he was outstanding after the All-Star break, scoring 36 points in 34 games. He remains a keeper-level fantasy asset regardless of his coach, although the reported rift is a little concerning.
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