Can Connor McDavid & Auston Matthews Keep up with Jack Eichel?

Auston Matthews, Buffalo Sabres, Connor McDavid, Editor's Choice, Edmonton Oilers, Jack Eichel, Long Read, Top Story, Toronto Maple Leafs

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  • 4. Evgeni Malkin (1.16) / PIT had 5 players who scored at least 50 points
  • 5. Nikita Kucherov (1.15) / TB had 5 players who scored at least 50 points
  • 6. Patrick Kane (1.09) / CHI had 4 players who scored at least 50 points
  • 7. Brad Marchand (1.06) / BOS had 5 players who scored at least 50 points
  • 8. Nicklas Backstrom (1.05) / WAS had 5 players who scored at least 50 points
  • 9. Mark Scheifele (1.04) / WIN had 5 players who scored at least 50 points
  • 10. Ryan Getzlaf (.99) / ANA had 4 players who scored at least 50 points
  • 11. Leon Draisaitl (.94) / EDM had 5 players who scored at least 50 points
  • 12. Jack Eichel (.93) / BUF had 2 players who scored at least 50 points
  • 13. David Pastrnak (.93) / BOS had 5 players who scored at least 50 points
  • 14. Brent Burns (.93) / SJS had 4 players who scored at least 50 points
  • 15. Erik Karlsson (.92) / OTT had 4 players who scored at least 50 points
  • 29. Auston Matthews (.84 P/GP) / TOR had 6 players who scored at least 50 points
  • Power Play

    The Sabres led the NHL in power-play efficiency at 24.5 percent. The Leafs were second (23.8 percent) and the Oilers were fifth (22.9 percent). The fact that the Sabres had considerable difficulty scoring at even strength and yet were first on the power play had the experts scratching their heads in utter bafflement. It was no puzzle to the fans of the blue and gold; when combined with the Sabres’ best four players, Eichel drove the effort. The Sabres’ offense ran entirely through number 15. If skating with higher-level talent and on a consistent line at equal strength, who knows what gaudy numbers Eichel may produce.

    Jack Eichel (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

    This Season

    Again, this season has Buffalo asking Eichel to do it all himself. He has stepped up on and off the ice. But he cannot do it alone. The Sabres don’t have enough experience, skill and effort on and from the blue line to get the team into the playoffs. With the exception of Evander Kane, and all the horrible forechecking penalties and selfish play he comes with, the organization only has six healthy left wingers—and that counts the three on the farm team in Rochester.

    The Sabres have a total of only two goals from Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo, and Rasmus Ristolainen. To scratch their way into a playoff berth will take a Herculean effort, a consistent execution of Housley’s system and a few trades. And they’ll have to take advantage of the scheduling quirk that has them playing almost two-thirds of the second half of the season at home.

    Interesting Start

    Through Wednesday night’s games, the small data sample is not surprising to diehard fans in Buffalo. In seven games, Jack Eichel has tallied nine points. He was labeled the game’s first star against the Ducks even though it was one of the rare occasions that he was kept off the scoresheet. Despite Eichel’s efforts, the Sabres have won but one of their games.

    In Edmonton, the Oilers are off to a similarly rough start; they have won only one of their five games. Connor McDavid has been called out by his coach, although not by name. The reigning league MVP has six points to date.

    Fans are happy in the GTA as the Leafs sit atop of the league standings. Auston Matthews has 10 points in Toronto’s first seven games.

    Who’s THE Man?

    A closer look at the numbers shows a much more defined picture. Of the three, Buffalo, a team that not only started 11 players who were not in last year’s opening lineup but started seven new faces last year and 10 the year before that, is characteristically having trouble scoring—except for Eichel (and Evander Kane). Eichel has points on nine of the team’s 18 goals. He’s been on the ice for 13 of the 18. It is fair to say that he IS the Sabres’ offense.

    Connor McDavid’s Oilers are, atypically, also having trouble finding the back of the net. To date, Edmonton has scored 11 goals. McDavid has points on six of them. Curiously, he’s only been on the ice for those six, meaning that he is not helping to create much offense. McDavid has too much skill and blinding acceleration for this circumstance not to change soon.

    The Leafs’ offensive juggernaut ironically reminds one, at times, of the Oilers of the ‘80s. They have no problem allowing five goals in a game because they have enough talent to outscore their opposition. In their first seven games, they have scored 34 goals. Auston Matthews has points on 10 of the 34 and has been on the ice for 16.

    Related: Maple Leafs Winning by Outscoring Their Problems

    The Argument

    There is no question that Eichel belongs in the superstar category with Matthews and McDavid. Who is best? Conventional wisdom says that McDavid is not only head and shoulders above these two, but the rest of the league. And conventional wisdom is often wrong. But the numbers don’t lie.

    Jack Eichel

    Jack Eichel (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

    Imagine if there was a mandatory trade that meant McDavid went to Buffalo, Matthews became an Oiler and Eichel donned the blue and white. Would McDavid’s production numbers be anywhere near the century mark? Could he single-handedly be able to drag the rag-tag Sabres into the playoffs? Would Matthews change the outcome of the Oilers’ playoffs results? Would Leafs play-by-play announcer Joe Bowen cry out anything but “Holy Mackinaw, Eichel scores again” over and over through June?

    The rest of this season will add fuel to the fire and fun to the discussion. Arguments and discussions like these are why we love hockey.

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