Sabres center Jack Eichel isn’t mincing words when assessing his first two NHL seasons.
“Actually, I think I’ve proven nothing,” the 20-year-old face of the franchise said before bluntly outlining his lack of accomplishments.
“If you look at what I’ve done, it hasn’t been a whole lot,” Eichel said. “Two mediocre seasons on a losing team.”
The player selected No. 2 in the 2015 draft behind Connor McDavid might be overstating his case given he produced at nearly a point-a-game pace last year despite missing 21 games with a sprained left ankle. And yet, the comments reflect Eichel’s level of motivation to establish himself as one of the league’s top young players.
The competitor in Eichel was miffed watching rookie Auston Matthews help the cross-border rival Toronto Maple Leafs vault ahead of Buffalo in the standings and clinch a playoff berth.
Then there’s Eichel’s contract status , entering the final year of his rookie deal. While he and the Sabres are still negotiating an extension, McDavid’s was completed in July, when he signed an eight-year, $100 contract.
An eight-year contract is on the table for Eichel, though the two sides are divided on a dollar amount. That makes Eichel an intriguing player to follow, given his production will help determine his value.
“I look at myself to be one of the leaders on this team,” Eichel said. “I think if I do that, guys will follow and we’ll be successful.”
A number of other players to watch in 2017-18:
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights.
The three-time Stanley Cup-winner has departed the Penguins to become the face of Golden Knights after being selected in the NHL expansion draft in June.
The 32-year-old Fleury became expendable in Pittsburgh following the emergence of Matt Murray. Fleury will be the last line of defense on a patchwork Golden Knights team that includes forwards James Neal and Vadim Shipachyov, who made the jump from playing in Russia, and defenseman Shea Theodore.
Selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft, Fleury has a 375-216-68 record, putting him 25 wins short of becoming just the 13th player to reach 400.
Forward Patrick Marleau, Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 38-year-old Marleau left behind Joe Thornton and 19 seasons in San Jose to join the youth-laden, Mike Babcock-coached Leafs, who reached the playoffs for just the second time in 12 seasons last year.
Marleau’s experience and leadership are valuable to a team that had seven rookies play at least 50 games last season, including…