Eichel: “I wanted to be here as long as I could”

Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel, left, and general manager Jason Botterill shake hands before an NHL hockey news conference, Wednesday Oct. 4, 2017, in Buffalo, N.Y. The Sabres and 20-year-old center agreed to an eight-year, $80-million contract extension on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – After signing an eight-year $80 million extension — the largest contract in franchise history — Sabres star forward Jack Eichel said he got emotional.

“It’s been a whirlwind for me the last 24-hours,” Eichel said.  “Sitting here I don’t think I ever imagined this, ahead of my 21st birthday in a few week that’d I have this opportunity – to play hockey for a living.”

“It’s a bit overwhelming.  Not the contract itself.  When you finally agree to a contract like that, it’s pretty emotional just thinking about everything you’ve gone through you’re whole life and everything your family has done for you.”

“We wanted to make sure four to five years from now Jack and his family were excited about being in Buffalo and very comfortable with the contract,” GM Jason Botterill added.  “I think the agency felt the same way from the Buffalo Sabres side. We came to an agreement there yesterday and I woke up this morning and both sides are very excited about the situation. So to me it was a perfect deal.”

The 20-year-old admitted he tried to “keep himself together” as he went to dinner with Sam Reinhart and Jake McCabe, who they found out about the contract like fans did — through social media.

“I’m just really grateful that the organization, the Pegula family and the city put their trust in me like that. It means a lot to me and my family to be sitting here today accepting this offer,” he said.

“I tried to hold it all in because I was going to teammates house for dinner and they ended up finding out on twitter,” Eichel added. “They looked over to me and started laughing.  It was kind of awkward, but there was a lot of emotion. I don’t think it’s still hit me completely. It’s crazy to think about it.”

When he first reported to training camp, Eichel was adamant he hadn’t proved a thing and after what he called back-to-back mediocre seasons.  On the eve of the season opener he’s ready to lead the franchise back to respectability.

“This city means so much to me and I like to think I mean a lot to this city as well. This organization been nothing but great to me since the first day I walked through the doors and given me every opportunity I’ve wanted,” he said.

“I think I owe it to them and to myself to do something special with the group of guys that we have in the room. It’s an organization that believes in me and I look forward to achieving all that.”

While the focus is on the opener against Montreal on Thursday, the first order of business for the now $10 million dollar man — treating his teammates to a feast.

“It’s going to be real nice. I’m really excited for that,” Ryan O’Reilly joked with reporters after practice. “We’re going to have to look at the schedule, the city and find a nice time for it. We’re going to try and find the most expensive thing we can.”

“I’ve been on a few of these dinners and they’re usually not too modest with their orders. I’m not sure where they want to do it or when they want to do it. I’ll treat the guys. I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for them.  Just keep (Evander Kane) off the wine.”

*****

Naming a captain: Head Coach Phil Housley told reporters they’d evaluate who would be captain leading up to the season opener. GM Jason Botterill told reporters on Wednesday there will not be a captain when the Sabres begin the season on Thursday.

“We will not name a captain,” he said. “We’ll continue to have discussions.  We’re very comfortable with our leadership group here, and Jack’s a big part of it.  Successful teams have a collaborative model.”

“I want to expect more of myself and I said the same thing after my first year. You just gain more experience. You’re a little more comfortable in the room. You have a little more respect from your peers,” Eichel added.  “For me, it just means coming to the rink everyday trying to be a professional, trying to work hard and if you do that, guys will follow and that creates a good culture.”

Culture change: Speaking of culture — Eichel was asked why he’s more excited about starting the season this year as compared to years past.  He made it clear — Botterill, Housley, and some of the new additions have helped change the culture.

“Everyone is older and more experience. I think the culture is moving in a great direction right now. Being around the team, I know we haven’t had the most successful preseason in terms of wins and losses, but the mindset of players, the mood in the room is better. We’re taking it day by day and trying to get better every day. If we do that, we’re going to put ourself in a good position at the end of the season.”

Importance of centerman: Sam Reinhart was moved  back to center during training camp in an effort to provide additional scoring opportunities for the Sabres, who struggled to produced 5-on-5 last year. Botterill addressed that on Wednesday.

“That’s one of our strengths of our organization right now. Having Jack, (Ryan) O’Reilly and Reinhart through the middle and having so many other players that can play center. Then also having other players that can play center.  If you look right now, we have Girgensons on the wing and Larsson on the wing. The entire league is looking for more centerman and we have the luxury of having some very good centerman here. I’m a strong believer in building down the middle. The fact we have those assets here and in our organization is a strength for us.”

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