I’m a big believer in giving credit where credit is due. Connor McDavid should get all of the hype that is bestowed on him- that kid is LEGIT. And as intertwined as his name is with Jack Eichel, the Buffalo Sabres’ rookie, McDavid is always first. To me, that means something. I get he was the first overall pick. I get the Great One and Steven Stamkos believe in him too. If I was a gambling man, I’d bet on McDavid to win the Calder Trophy. But I don’t like how Eichel is talked about almost as the ‘little brother’. I feel that he doesn’t get the credit that he should. By no stretch is McDavid overrated, but I think Eichel is underrated.
I had this conversation with one of my buddies from school. He’s from just outside of Buffalo and he lives and dies with the Sabres (and trust me, it’s way more dying than living). He’s a believer in Eichel. And he was before Buffalo took him with the second overall pick. When I spent Easter break at his house last year, I asked his family and his neighbors, “McDavid? Or Eichel?” The breakdown wasn’t what you’d expect. More of them said Eichel. And that was before they found out that Buffalo would get the second pick, which more or less obligated them to Eichel.
I asked him why this past week. His first note was that Eichel played against college kids. The skill in college hockey has greatly improved over the past decade. Keep in mind, as a freshman, Eichel won the Hobey Baker Award, the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Born in October of 1996, Eichel was one of the youngest players in the NCAA. And he killed it. Far and away better than everyone on the ice. He was playing with guys older than him, guys as much as five or six years older.
It’s hard to compare these two budding stars because of their style of game. McDavid is finesse. He’s closer to a Sidney Crosby type of player. McDavid can play physically, he’s not as soft as I perceive Sid the Kid to be, but not to the extent Eichel can. Eichel draws lots of comparisons to Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks. He’s more of an all-purpose type of guy. Eichel isn’t as tall as McDavid, but he’s more built. After seeing his games with the Terriers of Boston University, I would say that Eichel can change the momentum. He isn’t afraid of guys, he plays with a ton of heart, and he’s got the skill to back it up. He plays more of a Buffalo style of hockey- a really tough, blue-collared attack with some talent. Not to mention, he’s definitely excited to be in Buffalo.
Eichel’s first game was at home last night. And he played awesome. He won some faceoffs, he spent significant time on ice, and he even cashed in on a power play goal (the first of many in his career). He played better than McDavid did in his first game, not that it’s really worth all of that much. But Buffalo is closer to the playoff picture than Edmonton is. I think the Sabres needed an Eichel-type player more than Edmonton needed a McDavid-type player. I won’t ever root for the Sabres. Ever. I still hate most of their players’ guts. But I like Eich. I don’t think Buffalo cares if McDavid is the “future of the NHL”. My friend is content saying, “Eichel is the future of the Sabres.”