To put it rather bluntly, the Buffalo Sabres have not been anything to write home about. After a bevy of promising moves this offseason including bringing in names like Dan Bylsma and Ryan O’ Reilly, many were expecting the Sabres to surprise the Atlantic Conference. What they have gotten this year was anything but surprising as they were once again near the bottom of the league standings. The hope that they have been looking for isn’t with any veterans. In fact, they have two rookies that have been leading the way.
The hype around Jack Eichel has been palpable since his name was uttered and everything about him puts him way ahead of the pack of all of his peers (save for one Connor McDavid). In any other year he would have been the number one overall pick, but the 2015 draft was not a normal year by any means. It was one of the most top heavy drafts in recent memory and the loser of the draft lottery came away with one hell of a consolation prize. While the American born player has had the hype around him for quite awhile, his teammate from Vancouver, British Columbia has had a much more tame coronation.
Sam Reinhart, much like Eichel, was the number two pick in the 2014 NHL Draft and his play with the Kootenay Ice was solid, if not spectacular. His lineage coming from the Reinhart family may have helped him out some but since he has taken the ice in the NHL, he has shown just how valuable he is to the Sabres.
Both are having hallmark years for the Sabres as Reinhart has already hit the 20-goal mark and Eichel is about to break the 50-point plateau. These are numbers that are good for normal players in the NHL – not just players who are rookies.
Who would you guess are the best even-strength scorers on the Sabres? If your guess is Reinhart and Eichel, you would be one hundred percent correct. However, a lot of the damage they have done this season has been on the power play. They are both in the top-three on the team in penalty differential too, meaning they draw more penalties then they take. What do these players do once they are on the power play? Both are in the top-five in team scoring on the power play with Eichel having 17 points solely with the man advantage. The dynamic play they bring to the ice helps the team in multiple facets of the game. Reinhart is a scoring chance machine and leads all Buffalo forwards with 53% of his scoring chances going against the other team.
The league impact that these two players have made may be minimal, but they are the building blocks that a team needs to grow and be successful. The team may continually draft near the top but that doesn’t mean that the pieces they have picked up in the past can’t be valuable contributors on a team that is still trying to learn how to win. The pieces are coming together bit by bit and once that happens, Buffalo will have a sports team they can be proud of again.