Jack Eichel wasn’t about to throw his weight around in the jersey digit department after being selected second overall by the Sabres in the 2015 draft. That’s why during his rookie season, and throughout the past three seasons of his career, Eichel has led the charge in Buffalo with the No. 15 affixed to his back. But at the first sign of opportunity, the Sabres’ star is making a change.
With Evander Kane moving to the San Jose Sharks at last season’s trade deadline, the No. 9 has freed up on the Sabres’ roster. And with months to go until the season begins, Eichel has scooped up the sweater and will be sporting a new look come next season.
This isn’t the first time Eichel will be wearing the number, however. Before arriving in Buffalo, Eichel spent one season at Boston University and wore No. 9. He also rocked the number at the World Junior Championship ahead of his draft year, a tournament at which Eichel was also the captain. So, as unfortunate as the change is for those who own one of Eichel’s Sabres jerseys, it’s not as though a switch couldn’t have been seen coming. The No. 15 seemed like somewhat of a placeholder until the number of his choosing opened up.
“For a long time, the number nine has always been a part of my identity as both a person and as a player,” Eichel said in a release. “The opportunity opened up to switch and I felt it was the right time to make the change as I begin the next phase of my career as a Sabre.”
But for those lamenting Eichel’s new number, be it for jersey-accuracy reasons or otherwise, rest assured that you’re not alone. Eichel is far from the first young gun to switch up his number after a few successful seasons wearing a different digit. Here are six notable skaters from the post-lockout era who spent at least two campaigns wearing one number before switching jerseys as they entered their prime:
Maybe Eichel, who grew up in Boston, drew some inspiration from ‘Jumbo Joe’ when it comes to switching sweaters at a young age. When he arrived with the Bruins as the 18-year-old first-overall pick, Thornton deferred to veteran Rob DiMaio when it came to jersey numbers. The result was Thornton wearing No. 6 for his first three seasons in the NHL. There was some serious magic in that No. 19 jersey, though, because Thornton switched to his now instantly recognizable number and had a 37-goal, 71-point bonafide breakout campaign in 2000-01.
Oddly enough, Thornton’s longtime teammate and the player who went second-overall in the 1997 draft went through a similar switch. Though it’s hard to shake the image of Marleau wearing No. 12 — and he’s almost inarguably one of the best ever to wear the digit — he didn’t start out with his first choice. Instead, he wore No. 14 for the first four seasons of his career. He probably would have made the switch one season sooner if Bill Lindsay hadn’t been brought aboard by the San Jose Sharks in 2000-01.
Selanne’s switch predates that of either of Thornton or Marleau. In fact, he had become synonymous with a different number by the time either broke into the league. Starting out as lucky No. 13 with the Winnipeg Jets in 1992, Selanne wore the number as he scorched the league’s rookie goal-scoring record and flirted with a freshman Hart Trophy victory. But after a disappointing sophomore season, Selanne scooped up the No. 8 and wore it for all but one season for the rest of his Hall of Fame career.
Not to put an asterisk in here, but Seguin’s number change was prompted by two things: a change of locale and a retired number. When he was shipped off from the Bruins to the Stars after three solid seasons in his early career, Seguin landed in Dallas knowing full well that he was going to need to switch it up. The No. 19 had been retired by the Minnesota North Stars in honor of Bill Masterton, which left Seguin needing a new number. So, he pulled the oldest trick in the book: he simply inverted the two digits and got himself No. 91.
The big, bruising blueliner earned himself some fans in Chicago early on with his outstanding 19-goal, 36-point performance in his first full season. That lead more than a few fans to go out and get themselves a No. 52 jersey and it seemed like a safe bet that Byfuglien would keep the number. After all, he had worn it for three straight seasons even when he was bouncing up and down from the minors. Immediately following his breakout year, though, Byfuglien made the switch to No. 33 and he hasn’t looked back since.
Close your eyes and picture O’Reilly during his days with the Colorado Avalanche of Buffalo Sabres. He’s wearing No. 90, right? Well, if you’re picturing O’Reilly from any of the past six seasons, absolutely. If you’re seeing him from his first three campaigns, back from when he was already on the Selke Trophy radar as a sophomore, he’s wearing No. 37. There was no one blocking him from making the switch during those first three seasons, mind you. But when O’Reilly showed up to start the 2012-13 campaign, he was sporting a new number.
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