Jack Eichel is an unmitigated talent. He has been extremely productive despite a few injury setbacks and playing on a very bad team to this point of his career. Some Superstar players coast through pre-season just because they can. Hungry players execute in a competitive nature in all situations. That means stealing the show and scoring the overtime winning goal with a mere eight seconds left on the clock in a meaningless preseason game against the Penguins at Penn State.
I am aware that Pittsburgh probably had less than a half a dozen NHL players in the lineup. That said, Eichel did not view it as a meaningless game by the looks of that game-winning goal. He was flying all night and it was clear that he wanted to be out there playing a game he absolutely loves. I envision this season as a breakout year for Jack. He has already proved he is a top talent in the league. When I say breakout, I suggest Eichel differentiates himself from the rest of the pack climbing into the select few of elite franchise players. Leadership that demands others to escalate their performance.
As the captain, Eichel needs to do exactly what he did. He did not take shifts off. He did not avoid the hard work as if a pre-season game means nothing. He was an engineer in the Sabres out-shooting the Penguins 45-13 in regulation. He was leading by example.
These games mean an awful lot to many of the players who do not have a spot etched on the roster. This time of the year is extremely important to management who have many decisions to make based on evaluating the young players.
Is the preseason important to young players who will both make the NHL squad and others that will have to wait and develop? Certainly.
Is the preseason important to coaching and management for evaluating what they have put together in the off-season? You bet.
Is the preseason important to new arrivals becoming comfortable with coaching and teammates? Absolutely.
Then the captain franchise leader of the team should view it as important. In addition to viewing it as important, he must act the part.
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I am not implying that the all-star players who coast through training camp are not productive talents. I am stating that those talents are not true leaders if something as important to the young prospects, to the new coaching staff and management, is clearly not a priority to some great talents.
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Treating every aspect of the game with pure professionalism differentiates great talents from elite franchise players. Urgency about preparation. Leaders do not just talk a good talk. Lip service is figured out very fast by teammates. Walking the walk compliments talking the talk.
Many goal scorers are out there that never are viewed as franchise players because they are lacking leadership in certain areas. Lacking professionalism and character.
I really like Jeff Skinner. He is a pure goal scorer. I would not go to the extreme saying he is an all-around elite player. Not a franchise player. Not a leader in enough categories to claim he is a franchise level player. He is a proficient goal scorer that a team with a strong desire to win trades for and then renews the player’s contract. He is a huge piece to the puzzle. The puzzle that has been in a pile on the table for too many years now. I am seeing signs that the pile has been in the process of being assembled.
Eichel has a higher expectation to lead the franchise. He is the one to be well-spoken with the media. He takes part in the community and carries himself like a professional off the ice. He will continue making everyone around him better on the ice and off as he has come a long way since his rookie season. Eichel has the character that a team tanked for to acquire. The question of whether tanking is an act of character is a topic for a different day.
It is worth mentioning that Tage Thompson has put on some serious muscle and was one of the best players on either team out there.
It is nice to see that Jason Botterill is bringing in players that are willing to go to the net or simply stand there demanding attention as they attempt to screen the goalie and/or deflect a shot from the point. The next step figures to be coaching those players to go to the net.
Stealing shamelessly from that 80’s progressive band Asia: “Only Time Will Tell.” The Cars could just not fit into the topic. That said, Rest in Peace Ric Ocasek.