That went about as well as the Sabres could have hoped. Well, aside from the light crowd, I suppose. Still, Jack Eichel put on a show in the third period and OT, lifting the Sabres to a 3-2 OT victory over the Bruins prospects in the final game of the inaugural Prospects Challenge.
Buffalo’s 2-0 record bested the three-team field as New Jersey’s prospects were dispatched in each of their games while the Bruins finished 1-1. Eichel put a pair of exclamation points on the tournament with a nifty assist to open the scoring on Saturday night and then winning a race along the wall to create a two-on-one with Sam Reinhart on the winning goal.
Of course, this is sort of what you’d expect from the team’s electric number-two pick. He’s been billed as one of the best prospects of the last decade and aside from a sluggish showing in July’s Development Camp scrimmage, he’s put up highlight after highlight. I was far more interested in keeping an eye on players like Brendan Guhle (he was good), Nick Baptiste and others but the allure of Eichel and Reinhart is had to ignore.
Eichel’s game winner is obviously the nice, neat exclamation point on the evening but it was his assist on the game-tying goal was the more impressive play. Eichel drifted down towards the faceoff dot and slid a gorgeous saucer pass through the Bruins’ penalty kill to find Brycen Martin streaking down the opposite side. Eichel is at home posting up at one point of the umbrella on the powerplay. He has a heavy shot which keeps him from being simply a passing threat, but when he has time to dissect a team, he’ll do it. Both he and Reinhart strung together some very impressive passes throughout the night.
I liked that the first word that Randy Cunneyworth used to describe Reinhart was poise. Going back to last year’s development camp, the one thing that really stands out about his game is how he seems to let things come to him. He seems to be the one dictating things on the ice, not letting things dictate his game. Cunneyworth didn’t hesitate to put he and Eichel together when the Sabres needed to tie late and they were on the ice for the winning goal as well. There may be some time until they’re playing together regularly at the NHL level, but tonight’s sneak preview was a nice treat.
While I was unable to make it to Saturday’s opening game, I was surprised to see how few seats were filled given the ridiculous turnout for this summer’s Development Camp. Tonight was no different as there were only a few well filled sections in the 100 level. Add in the lack of a live stream and a fraction of fans got a chance to check out these games compared to those who saw the scrimmage in July.
I don’t want to get into too many points on not streaming the game, the odd lack of coverage by the Sabres Twitter during the game itself (they made up for it with some good Vines) as that is best saved for a later post. What is odd is that Sabres fans didn’t flock to the arena for these games as they did in July. These were actual games against actual opponents that even included some of the draft’s best talents – the Bruins had three firsts on the ice tonight – not named Jack Eichel. The weather, Bills and a number of festivals certainly played a role in the ticket sales, but I’d certainly argue that Buffalo’s tremendous hockey fans could have shown a bit better given that their shiny new toys were on display over a rainy weekend.
- Brendan Guhle continues to grow on me. I admit I didn’t know much about him prior to the draft, but his skating ability at Development Camp piqued my interest and that was on display again tonight. He needs time to add weight, but he has shown some impressive upside. He made a great play to burn down the far boards to collect a loose puck and create an odd-man rush in the second period. It was an impressive display of speed and a good read to push up into the play.
- Jake McCabe was another player who impressed me tonight. He was quick to engage physically and was easily the most talented defender on the ice. He was also the player with the most professional experience on the ice, so that was probably to be expected.
- Good on the Rochester Americans social media for their consistent, solid coverage. Filled the gap while the Sabres account was nearly silent. At their own event, no less.
- I had reservations about 3-on-3 overtime and I have dropped every single one of them after tonight’s display. There is a ton of open ice, mismatch opportunities at every turn and the ability for extended possessions in-zone. Oh, and it’s a long change for each team. There were numerous solid opportunities for each club, it just so happened that Jack Eichel cashed his. I can’t wait to see it in the regular season.
- CJ Motte had a nice game. He’ll make for a nice depth addition for the organization in the minors. He moves well and plays an athletic style. He’s not a giant like Robyn Lehner or Anders Lindback, even. But he gets out and challenges shooters and keeps the game in control.