Eichel knows he can be bet­ter

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - COM­MEN­TARY

Take a notepad. Write down a quick list of the Buf­falo Sabres’ prob­lems. If you in­clude Jack Eichel, he’s prob­a­bly well down the list.

To even im­ply that Eichel has to be bet­ter could be called blas­phemy. Be­fore reach­ing for the pitch­forks, know that Eichel and I have had this con­ver­sa­tion mul­ti­ple times over the last two years. The topic came up again Mon­day in KeyBank Cen­ter. And Eichel agrees.

Right now, four years into his su­per-hyped NHL ca­reer, Eichel is a very nice player and still car­ries all kinds of po­ten­tial. But the Sabres ex­pected a superstar and are now pay­ing him like one. He’s not there yet.

That’s the way of the NHL world now, where young play­ers are paid long-term ex­ten­sions on po­ten­tial so you’re not stuck with veter­ans on over­priced con­tracts like Anze Ko­pi­tar in Los An­ge­les. But it leads to a sit­u­a­tion where Eichel has never played in the post­sea­son, has never had a 30-goal sea­son – and has a higher cap hit than Sid­ney Crosby, Ev­geni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Alexan­der Ovechkin.

“There are still a lot of strides to be taken. I want to be an elite, elite player in this league,” Eichel said dur­ing an in­sight­ful 12-minute ses­sion with re­porters on the Sabres’ locker cleanout day. “I want to be the best. There’s a long way to go. There’s a lot of re­ally good play­ers in this league and I think I can be there with them.”

Eichel set ca­reer highs this sea­son in goals (28), as­sists (54) and points (82). He was the Sabres’ first 80-point man since 2008. But again, they ex­pected a superstar. They threw an en­tire sea­son try­ing to get Connor McDavid, but fig­ured Eichel was a close choice 1B. That hasn’t hap­pened.

Eichel fin­ished tied for 23rd in

Where is Eichel’s work down low on the forecheck or com­ing back to the de­fen­sive end?

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