Now more than ever, America needs Jack Eichel.
Not just Buffalo—America.
OK, hockey is a niche sport and Sabres fans probably don't care about how a breakout season and postseason trip for Eichel can help better America and perhaps the world, but that's the premise for this column so you have to endure that. Based on his performance last season, it's realistic that Eichel can become the nation's biggest hero now that Captain America has been revealed as an accessory after the fact in the murder of Tony Stark's parents.
Why would Eichel emerging as a star help America?
Because it could mean the end of seeing Patrick Kane's stupid face in any commercials for NBC or the NHL. We need that. We all need that. Everyone. Eichel is our only hope.
The Sabres haven't been to the playoffs since 2011 and haven't been close since drafting Eichel second overall in 2015. They have a new coach and seemingly improved their roster by adding Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella, Benoit Pouliot, and Nathan Beaulieu. There's reason to be hopeful the Sabres won't be the most disappointing thing in Buffalo for the seventh straight season behind the Bills and chicken wings.
The biggest reason is Eichel, the North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, native that has potential to blossom into a point-per-game player in Year 3 with a better supporting cast and a coach in Phil Housley who can't possibly be worse that Dan Bylsma. Eichel's 57 points in 61 games ranked 12th among American-born players a season ago, but his 0.93 points per game were second only to Kane, who nobody wants to hear from during commercial breaks on NBC or NBCSN. That's unlikely to change this season, but dare to dream what a 95-point season from Eichel would mean in 2018-19.
It's a Wednesday Night Rivalry game between Vegas and Montreal. NBCSN fades to commercial as Doc Emrick wishes an AHL assistant coach from 1983 a happy birthday. It's an ad for the 2019 All-Star Game. And instead of Kane mumbling, "say hello to my little friend" in what remains one of the most ill-advised marketing campaigns in sports history, it's Eichel! And he says something like, "See you in Arizona!" or wherever the hell that All-Star Game is taking place. It's wooden and terrible but it doesn't include Kane at all. Yeah, that same 6-year-old Discover commercial is next, but for those 30 Kane-free seconds, it's paradise.
If there's one thing we know about the NHL, it's that it can never get out of its own way. Even when it stumbles into something amazing, like the John Scott appearance at the All-Star Game, it does everything in its power to make sure that never happens again. When a team full of the best young players captures the hearts and minds of fans at its stupid World Cup event that nobody wanted as a replacement for the Olympics, the NHL immediately lets it be known it'll be sure to replace that team with Norway or Slovenia next time. It's a miracle a Stanley Cup Final game hasn't been postponed because someone at the league lost the keys to the arena.
That's how you wind up with Kane as the American face of the NHL. He's born in the United States, he leads all Americans in points and plays for a good team in a big market. Boom, his uncharismatic ass is plastered everywhere. The obvious issue with Kane is the rape accusation, but he was already being used as a front-man for American hockey when he was already a known dick nobody liked, as he was arrested for beating the shit out of a cab driver in 2009. When you fuck up as a 20-year-old, you should almost always get a second chance to redeem yourself and learn and grow, but maybe you shouldn't be the poster boy for your company.
That's why Eichel is the only American in the league that can unseat Kane. He's young, plays in a hockey-mad American market and has never been charged with a felony. Phil Kessel would be perfect for this role if he weren't someone that would rather light himself on fire than stare into a camera and talk. Johnny Gaudreau, Max Pacioretty, Blake Wheeler, and Auston Matthews all play in Canadian markets, which may as well be other planets as far as NBC is concerned. Joe Pavelski is like 100 in hockey years and San Jose may as well be in Ontario.
Eichel and the Sabres are our only hope, and with Kane and the Blackhawks looking locked into a few years of first-round exits or maybe even a playoff miss in 2018, the door is open for change. History shows that in the first year after expansion, scoring numbers for star players tend to rise, with Eichel on an upward trajectory already, a big year could be in the offing if he stays healthy.
It also wouldn't hurt for the Sabres to be good and entertaining because if NBCSN is going to air 20 Sabres games a year, it'd be nice if they weren't a train wreck again.
One-hundred points for Eichel. One-hundred points for the Sabres. American hockey fans need this for our long-term sanity and happiness. Let's all be Sabres fans in 2017-18.