As Jack Eichel goes, so go the Buffalo Sabres.
As the suits and the players work towards a resolution that will see the NHL return to play for the 2021 season, Eichel is not laying on his leather couch watching his close friend Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills march their ay towards the NFL playoffs.
No. Quite the contrary. Eichel currently is in Jupiter, Florida working on his overall game with his skills guru, Adams Oates.
Oates is widely regarded as having one of the sharpest hockey minds in the world. The foundation of Adam’s Hall of Fame career was an inner feel of the details, flow and lanes within the game coupled with a burning desire to always get better. He carried these attributes into his career as an NHL coach, during which time he studied team systems and player tendencies and gained an even deeper understanding of the details within the game.
As a result of his incredible journey as a player, coach and student of the game, Oates' eye is able to identify the nuances within a player’s movements, skill set and thought process that are holding that player back from reaching the next level. Oates and his team then get to work on the ice and through video analysis, correct those flaws and improve the player’s movements, skills and thought process on the ice. The objective is to create a player who will be safer on the ice, be able to execute more plays and have an advanced “Hockey IQ”.
Oates is not your father's hockey skills coach. Oates personally hand selects which elite players he will work with. Oates has been working with Eichel for the past few years and the results are easy to see in Eichel's physical and mental approaches to his craft both on and off the ice.
Eichel, a self admitted rink rat and hockey addict, hasn't skated in a meaningful NHL contest since March 9, 2020. its been 8 long months with no hockey in his life. Last week, the North Chelmsford, Mass. product broke his silence when he told the "Missin' Curfew" podcast that he will continue to hone his hand-eye, feet, and shooting skills while the NHL sits in pause mode.
In the process, the captain of the Sabres is leading his teammates through the COVID19 pandemic while he continues to polish his world class skills at the rink.
"The team owner (Terry Pegula) when I got names captain, he said something that has always sat with me. He was like, whenever somebody gets a position like this (team captain), they always try to be like "oh, you want to be a captain like Sidney Crosby or a captain like Jonathon Toews. These are great guys to try to model yourself after and learn things from but he (Pegula) was like "you are going to be your own captain. You are going to be Jack Eichel. You are not going to be anybody else. For me, it's all about the work and dedicating yourself to the game. Somebody who comes in and tries to get better everyday whether its just working out or going on the ice. Whatever it is, I give my best and I think if other guys see it its pretty contagious . If the guys see how dedicated I am to hockey and my craft I think it can get a whole team behind it".
Eichel's words resonated with the former NHL trio that comprise 75% of the "Missin' Curfew" crew. Scottie Upshall played was a very effective forward and sixth overall pick in the NHL Draft and played 17 seasons with several clubs. Shane O’Brien was a no nonsense defenseman who played 10 seasons in the NHL. Boston native Jimmy Hayes played 334 NHL games.
Having taken strides in Eichel's skates, Upshall, O'Brien and Hayes know what a physical and emotional grind the NHL can be. The fourth man on the mic is Kevin Connolly, the actor who played "E" on the iconic HBO series "Entourage".
"I think it was after my second or third year. The seasons are just so long, you play in so many games and you travel so much. If you are playing a lot and you are constantly going over the boards, I think the conditioning aspect is just the most important thing. I think weight lifting is important but it takes a toll on your body. I think being in good condition and being in good physical shape. I've heard "Stammer" (Steven Stamkos" talk about being on the ice more, skating more. Maybe less wear and tear in the gym on your body and I've tried to take that approach as well where I'm not skating five times a week to begin the "summer" (October, November, December due to COVID). As it gets going, I'm trying to skate more and trying not to kill myself in the gym so that I can keep myself healthy for when I do get on the ice I feel good. A lot of that has to do with conditioning".
Eichel used to train with a shot doctor in the Boston area when he was a student at Boston University. Eichel tells the story that he used to ditch classes while enrolled at BU so that he could go shoot pucks with his shooting instructor.
After signing his eight year, $80 million guaranteed contract with the Sabres, Eichel can now afford an upscale, elite skills coach in Adam Oates. Eichel is in great company as Oates also trains NHL A-listers Connor McDavid, Taylor Hall, Ryan O'Reilly, Samson Reinhart, Steven Stamkos, Mark Scheifele, Brayden Schenn, Matt Duchene and others.
Eichel's current training program is tailored to his own growth hand development goals. "I have rallly gotten into the thingss that Adam is teaching. I think we are on the same page on a lot of things and I just think that he has a great perspective on offense, creating offense, shooting. Whatever it might be. I've really gotten into that and I think it has really helped me"
Eichel also credits his friend and Buffalo, NY native Patrick Kane for coaching him to develop better, more skills as well.
"The other weird thing is Paddy Kane told me at the Word Championships that he shoots low a lot. That was one big thing I started doing last year. Paddy Kane talks about wanting to shoot low all the time whether is five hole , low blocker, low glove and how much more of an opportunity you give yourself to score. That was one of the big things I tried to focus on this year was just trying to whatever it might be pick lower corners. I found the first few years I was missing the net a lot trying to pick the top corners. You don't even give yourself a chance then. Shooting lower this year really helped me out".
Last season, Eichel scored a career high 36 goals and in 68 games played. Were it not for the NHL season being canceled due to COVID with 14 games remaining in his season, would have knocked attthe door of 50 goals scored for the first time in his five year NHL career. Eichel ended the season with 78 points in 68 games played. He is committed to scoring 100 points during the 2021 season.
Eichel told Upshall, O'Brien, Hayes and Connelly that he is very excited that Sabres GM Kevyn Adams has added a cluster of veteran players to add more skill and leafdership to the room.
“I know the league is trying to go younger, but I think that you still need those older guys, the veteran guys, the guys that have been there and won. I think you need them in your locker room, first of all, and you need them on the ice. We’ve definitely been young. We’ve been in a transition for a few years now. There’s always young guys coming through the organization and you want to see everyone have success, but you look at the transformation that our team made this offseason".
“We added Eric Staal. Obviously, he’s won a Cup, he’s been around the league for a while. A guy like Cody Eakin, a guy like Hallsy. These are guys, established guys in the league that are older, veteran guys. I think they bring a lot on the ice. Taylor Hall, MVP a few years ago. He’s going to bring a lot to the game, but I think they bring a lot to the locker room and just overall the culture of your group".
Adams also added grinding forward Toby Reider for more panelty killing and bottom six production.
Eichel lamented that it has been hard to win meaningful games in today's NHL by icing a youthful, inexperienced lineup every night. Eichel is all about the recent additions of salt and pepper to his team's Movember cookie duster.
"I think it’s so important to have that veteran presence in the room and on the ice, so I think it was good for us to add that this offseason. We’ll see what happens.”
Eichel stressed the importance of having on the roster like the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning as well as Cup runners up the Dallas Stars.
“It’s super hard (to win with all young guys),” Eichel said.
“Look at the teams that made it this year. Look at Dallas. It’s an older group. These guys have played a thousand games in the NHL and have been around for a while. I think it’s important. I’m not going to try and be a GM here because it’s probably the toughest job in the world. I definitely agree with you that you need the older guys. You need the veteran presence. You need guys like that to calm the bench down when things get going and things aren’t going the right way.”