QUEENS, N.Y. (WIVB) — After signing an eight-year, $80 million extension before the puck dropped on the season, expectations were high for the Sabres and star forward Jack Eichel.
But with a new coach and a new system Eichel, along with many of his teammates struggled to produce through the first two months of the season.
In October the Sabers managed just three wins and November brought more frustration — three wins and a seven game losing streak.
“Certainly when you’re coming in, you’re trying to implement a new system and a new attitude and it takes time,” head coach Phil Housley said. “Things weren’t clicking. It took some time for players to understand where we were coming from. I would say 20-25 games and from that point we got healthy and you can see the result with how we’re playing right now.”
After combining for 19 points in the first two months of the season, Eichel caught fire in December with eight goals and eight assists.
While the wins still might not be there, the product on the ice has improved behind the forward’s impressive play.
“I don’t really think I changed too much. I took a few veggies out of my pregame meal and switched up some things,” Eichel joked with reporters Sunday at Citi Field.
“It’s tough to say. Earlier in the year I thought I was playing well and not being rewarded and I thought the same for our team. We’ve been a more consistent team, shift in and shift out. We’re all buying in a little better now and starting to come together but we still have a long way to go.”
Since being shutout in three consecutive games, Eichel has been one of the most consistent players the last 12 outings with points in nine of those games.
His eight point, eight assist month — which included his first career hat-trick — has pushed Eichel to the team lead statistically with with 15 goals and 20 assists.
“I think Jack, like our hockey team took those (three shutouts) to heart,” he said. “From that point, Jack has really taken his play to another level. He’s a leader.”
“He’s starting to show the signs of the young star he can be and he can be,” NHL Network Analyst Kevin Weeks said. “I think he’s a game changer. He’s a perennial all-star and he should also contend, when he hits his stride, to be one of the elite point producers in the league.”