When Jack Eichel returned to the Buffalo Sabres’ lineup on Tuesday night, everyone knew it was a big deal. Not only was it Eichel’s season debut and the beginning of his sophomore season in the National Hockey League, but it signified a huge offensive boost to the team overall.
In a span of just over nine minutes in the first period, Eichel contributed a goal and an assist to help the Sabres go up 2-0, en route to the eventual 5-4 win over the Ottawa Senators.
The best players are not only good in their own right, but also make players around them better. That’s exactly the impact we can hope Eichel will have on the Sabres as he and the team continue their season. His return may not only spark an offensive boost, but may also spark a boost in overall morale, too – two things we already saw in Tuesday’s game.
With that being said, here are five players that may see the biggest impact of Eichel’s return.
1. Sam Reinhart
Everyone who’s watched a Sabres game in the last year knows that Eichel and Reinhart are a dynamic duo. They’re both young, both top prospects, and both incredibly talented. On their own, they’re good individual players, but they also make each other better.
Last season, Reinhart assisted on three of Eichel’s 24 goals. Conversely, Eichel assisted on five of Reinhart’s 23 goals. The pair also combined for assists on two more Sabres goals, one each from Evander Kane and Matt Moulson.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a player who worked better with Eichel last season.
This season so far, Reinhart has notched four goals and six assists for a total of 10 points in 21 games (as of November 29). Not too shabby, but a stat that will almost certainly see an improvement with Eichel back in the lineup.
Both Eichel and Reinhart were part of the on-ice product for Kyle Okposo’s power-play goal, which opened the scoring against Ottawa. Reinhart didn’t get credited with an assist, but was part of the play leading up to the goal; he was also on the ice for Eichel’s goal moments later; a goal that also on the man advantage. Reinhart’s tally later in the game came when Eichel was on the ice, though Jack didn’t get credited with an assist.
In total, Reinhart and Eichel played 15:04 together in Tuesday night’s win over Ottawa. That’s the majority of both of their respective ice times (17:18 and 17:08), and it paid off in a big way, as three Sabres goals came during that time.
2. Matt Moulson
Matt Moulson hasn’t been the best offensively, but he is undoubtedly better with Eichel around.
Last season, Moulson put up just eight goals. A quarter of those came with assist from Eichel. Moulson assisted on two of Eichel’s 24 goals on the season, and the pair combined for assists on two additional Sabres goals, which came at the hands of Zemgus Girgensons and Sam Reinhart.
This season has already been an improvement offensively for Moulson. Just 21 games in, he’s already notched seven goals, which is one shy of his total for 81 games in the 2015-16 season.
Eichel slotting back into the Sabres’ lineup can only help Moulson maintain his offensive resurgence going forward in the season.
3. Zemgus Girgensons
A lot of talk surrounding Zemgus Girgensons in recent months has been trade talk. It’s certainly not unwarranted, but it’ll be interesting to see how Eichel’s return could bring a spark to Girgensons’ play.
Girgensons notched seven goals in 71 games last season; three of those goals were assisted by Eichel. One of Girgensons’ 11 assists came on an Eichel goal, while three more came on goals also assisted by Eichel.
The pair work well together, and Girgensons needs to start producing offensively. He’s registered just four points (1goal, 3 assists) in the first 21 games of the season as of November 29. That’s also partially a product of diminished ice time, since he’s averaging just 12:36 this season, but it’s also a product of Eichel’s absence.
4. Brian Gionta
Brian Gionta has registered just eight points (4g, 4a) in 21 games this season for the Buffalo Sabres. This number will need to improve as part of the team’s hopeful playoff run.
A piece that could help that? Eichel’s return.
Although the two don’t have as big of an impact on paper on each other as the aforementioned players, Eichel and Gio did work together at least a handful of times last year.
Gionta put up 33 points last year, totaling 12 goals and 21 assists. One of those goals was assisted by Eichel, with two of his assists coming on Eichel goals. They also both combined for assists on one additional goal, scored by Rasmus Ristolainen.
With Gionta as the team’s captain, and given that Eichel is undoubtedly one of the leaders among the Sabres’ youth, the pair will need to work together as the season goes on. The offensive spark that could result is only a part of it.
5. Evander Kane
Evander Kane was arguably one of the Sabres’ top forwards last season; he totaled 35 points (20g,15a) in just 65 games last year, and at least a small part of that was helped by Eichel.
As I’ve said before, Eichel put up 24 goals last season; four of those were assisted on by Kane. Of Eichel’s 32 assists, three came on Kane goals. The pair combined for assists just once, on a Cody Franson goal.
Kane has obviously faced some injury troubles this season, and had registered two assists in just 10 games prior to Tuesday’s game. In Eichel’s return, Kane notched an assist on Reinhart’s goal, with Jack also on the ice. The two played together for over 12 minutes in the win, often on a line with Reinhart. It worked well.
With both Kane and Eichel now back from their respective injuries, it’s time for both of them to hit the ice and combine for some offensive power in the Blue and Gold.
Eichel’s presence has already made an evident impact on the team, in just one game. He played at least partly with each of these players in his season debut, most notably Reinhart (15:04) and Kane (12:04).
What do you think Jack Eichel’s point totals for the season will be, assuming he plays every game from here on out? What about these others played mentioned here? Just how much WILL they be impacted by Eich’s return?
Check out this link showing last year's advanced stats showing teammates with and without Eichel.