The Buffalo Sabres are bad, epically bad, and they’ll get even worse once they trade away Tyler Myers and Chris Stewart. (To Detroit and Boston, respectively, is our guess.) And while they have a lot of company in the dregs of the NHL standings, their chances of getting one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel are looking very, very good.
(Depending on how the New York Islanders do, there’s a chance the Sabres could get a crack at both. And while the early results don’t favor that possibility, remember, it’s the Islanders we’re talking about here.)
So how often is it that the local team gets to see not one, but both, of them in action in the same season? Buffalo is quickly becoming a destination for junior hockey and it seems only a matter of time before the city gets an Ontario League franchise. Earlier this season, Eichel played in front of more than 7,000 in the All-American Prospects Game and somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 are expected to watch McDavid and his Erie Otters play against the Niagara Ice Dogs Wednesday night.
McDavid will have a difficult act to follow. In his team’s 6-3 win in the All-American Prospects Game, Eichel had a goal and an assist and played to rave reviews. But McDavid, who leads the OHL in scoring going into the game, has the added burden of expectation that comes with being truly special. In fact, his own assistant coach, Jay McKee, a former defenseman with the Buffalo Sabres, had this to say about McDavid leading into tonight’s game: “I think he has the potential to be as good as any player who has played the game.”
Wow. Discuss amongst yourselves whether it’s appropriate to already set aside a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame for a player who hasn’t even played an NHL game yet, but if that is precisely the kind of hype that is surrounding McDavid these days. So far this season, he’s done little to prevent those kinds of comparisons. He has 25 points in nine games and going back to last season, has been held pointless in just one of his past 47.
In fact, McDavid is in the midst of putting together one of the greatest offensive seasons in OHL history. Hockey Canada has tentatively scheduled to begin its World Junior evaluation camp for Dec. 11, meaning McDavid would miss a total of eight games. Barring an injury, his 8-17-25 totals in just nine games put him on pace for 167 points this season, a total not surpassed since Doug Gilmour scored 177 in 1982-83. And McDavid’s teammate Dylan Strome, a possible top-five pick in the 2015 draft, isn’t far behind. He sits second in OHL scoring with 23 points.
Eichel, by comparison, has played just one game for Boston University so far this season and had two goals and two assists, but it was an exhibition game against USA Hockey’s under-18 team, essentially meaning Eichel was competing against his peers. It will be more indicative of his talent level when the Terriers start their season against U.S. college teams this weekend against Michigan State.
So you’ll have to excuse the locals in Buffalo if they cheer vociferously for McDavid tonight. With any luck, they’ll be warming up their vocal chords for next season.