Sabres’ Jack Eichel is a puck carrying phenom

Buffalo Sabres rookie Jack Eichel joins Hockey Central at Noon to talk about his chirp fest with Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban.

At times last season, some scouts believed that Jack Eichel would be an even better player than Connor McDavid. That feeling seemed to fade away in the second half of the year, and McDavid has certainly been more offensively dynamic in his short time in the NHL than Eichel has, small sample that it is.

Still, Eichel is on a 56-point pace as a teenager in the NHL, and if he maintains that, it would be the sixth-best rookie season point total by a teenager in the last 20 years, in one of the lowest scoring seasons ever. All this to say, while he isn’t putting up point-per-game numbers like some may have expected, Eichel has been brilliant offensively.

What is interesting about Eichel’s performance as a rookie isn’t his point totals though, it’s his ability to drive possession not only as a rookie, but also as a forward.

On average, defencemen are involved in over two more possession driving plays per 20 minutes than forwards are, yet only two players in the entire NHL complete more than 19-year-old Eichel: Roman Josi and Erik Karlsson.

Eichel completes 22.9 successful plays per 20 minutes that drive the puck up the ice towards and into his opponents’ zone, more than any NHL forward. But what exact kind of plays is he making to drive that number? Let’s break it down.

Eichel

Eichel is essentially just average at passing in the neutral zone, and slightly above average passing out of the defensive zone, especially with shorter outlet passes, but in terms of carrying the puck, he is a phenom.

No forward successfully carries the puck out of their team’s defensive zone more often than Eichel does, though Mike Hoffman and Gustav Nyquist are close behind, with Taylor Hall just a hair behind them. You’ll notice that all of those players have some similar traits, specifically very quick acceleration and the ability to keep the puck under checking pressure.

In terms of controlled zone entries, Eichel isn’t quite at the top of the NHL; sitting fifth behind Johnny Gaudreau, Artemi Panarin, Hall, and Evgeni Malkin.

However, his domination in comparison to league average and team average is essentially the same.

All things considered, the only player in the NHL who is comparable to Eichel in terms of skating the puck through the neutral zone is Hall, which is interesting as Hall is the next best forward after Eichel in overall possession driving plays as well.

Going a bit further; Hall’s rookie season saw him pace for 28 goals and 53 points over an 82 game season, whereas Eichel’s pace is 26 goals and 56 points. Even more eerily; Hall averaged 1.57 points per 60 minutes at even strength as a rookie, whereas Eichel has averaged 1.58.

Keeping in mind that Eichel has broken into the NHL in a lower scoring season than Hall did, with NHL average save percentage rising from .913 to .917, and that Eichel is playing centre, it’s likely that Eichel has been the more impressive rookie, but it’s remarkable how similar those two players are.