Just as advertised, Jack Eichel looked every bit a star in the making during Buffalo’s come-from-behind 3-2 preseason win over the Wild.
The second overall pick from June’s draft skated past Ryan Suter early in the third period and set up former Wild winger Matt Moulson for a layup tying goal. Then, four minutes later, a puck got past Jared Spurgeon at the power-play point, Eichel skated into open ice, caught up to the puck and scored a silky-smooth shorthanded winning goal through Darcy Kuemper’s wickets.
“He’s everything that you hear,” said Suter. “Steady, big, big, long reach, upright skater. He slows the game down.”
In the first period, Eichel actually caused a bunch of “ooooo’s” in the crowd when he executed a spin-o-rama past Spurgeon at the Wild blue line. But then Eichel attempted a backhanded saucer into the slot and Mikael Granlund picked it off. Moments later, Zach Parise set up Spurgeon for a 1-0 lead.
But the first period was the only bit of good for the Wild. It brought its skating legs into the game and all lines seemed to be churning. It jumped out to an 11-2 shot lead at one point. It finished with 20, including three in the third period.
The Wild looked dead tired the last half of the game, and even Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma said Monday morning that’s the fear having a preseason game after four days of camp.
Wild coach Mike Yeo couldn’t have been more displeased with the performance by his team. At times, his tone sounded like he was talking after a regular-season December or January loss.
“I think we have a lot of work to do,” Yeo said.
I asked if his guys were tired, and he said, “Hopefully. I think the way that we played the game in certain situations and certain areas played into that as well. When you continuously lose puck battles, you’re going to end up defending and retrieving pucks a lot. I think that’s what we did tonight. But I will say before today, it was three very hard days for the guys, … very hard.”
There was good and bad from every line. Granlund looked real good. He scored a power-play goal after drawing a penalty. He also won 8 of 10 faceoffs and assisted on Spurgeon’s goal. Parise had two assists and also scored a fake 3-on-3 overtime winner with eight seconds left when Mikko Koivu hit him with a cross-crease pass. It came after Parise executed a give-and-go with Koivu.
The puck actually hit Parise on the shaft of his stick. Koivu dead-panned, “I was trying to hit him on the tape.”
That was the only laughing afterward though.
Yeo is really underwhelmed by pretty much every roster hopeful right now.
It may seem like four days in camp is early, but the Wild wants to basically get to its team after Sunday’s preseason game against Winnipeg and by the time they bus that night to Duluth for three days.
So if guys like Tyler Graovac and Mike Reilly and Kurtis Gabriel and Ruslan Fedotenko don’t get going, they could be in Iowa by the weekend. Graovac and Reilly, I believe, are the only two bubble players also playing in Tuesday’s game at Winnipeg.
I thought Graovac got off to a decent first period, but Yeo felt his entire game was “probably similar to what his camp has been: OK. He’s getting a lot of attention. I’m not trying to pick on the kid, but we definitely need somebody to make a statement that they’re pushing hard to make this club.”
On Graovac becoming kind of perimeter after being assertive early, Yeo said, “We had a lot of guys like that tonight. I would have liked to have seen more pushback from a lot of guys tonight.”
One storyline in tonight’s game was Parise and Sabres defenseman Mike Weber getting into several battles. There was one shift where they each drew minors where they cross-checked and slashed each other starting by the Wild bench and ending 10 feet from the net. Later, Weber got Parise in the left corner, so Parise made sure to floor him in the right corner.
Gabriel wanted to fight Weber in the second period. Finally, Weber agreed in the third and Gabriel knocked him to the ice with a huge right. Gabriel afterward said he “absolutely” went after Weber because of the way he was treating Parise and that’s his role and how he’s going to get noticed by the brass.
“I like guys sticking up for his teammates. He’s trying to make a statement there,” Yeo said.
But Yeo also didn’t seem overly impressed with Gabriel’s overall game, and there was one shift where he tried to make something out of nothing very late in a shift that he should have just dumped the puck and changed. He tried to stick handle around a guy, coughed it up at the offensive blue line and took a penalty in response.
In his debut, Reilly, there was a little bit of good, a little bit of bad.
On the kids not stepping up, Yeo said, “Communication’s part of our job, but it’s not our job to try to motivate a player into playing hard and wanting to be here. I’m sure they all want to be here. Whether it’s nerves, whether it’s an opposition that’s out there, too, maybe they look at our roster, but what you want to see is guys with fight in them, guys who are not going to accept that the other team is having a good night, not going to accept that we have a lot of guys on our roster. … They’re going to demand a spot. You want to see that push.”
On Fedotenko, Yeo said, “He was a lot better in the scrimmages than he was tonight.”
See what I mean? Not many guys Yeo was happy with.
The Wild went 1 for 3 on the power play. The first power play of the game had the setup the vets have asked for and like it was drawn up, Granlund potted a Parise one-timer that hit the post that was set up by Suter.
“The first power play of the game was very much what we’re looking for,” Yeo said.
But the second unit turned the puck over for Eichel's shortie and later with a chance to tie, the Wild’s power play couldn’t register a shot. Guys looked tired, and everybody said the ice was choppy.
Basically, Yeo said tonight was not good enough at all.
I thought there were a lot of good signs with the Jason Zucker-Koivu-Nino Niederreiter line. Zucker was flying and was to me the only guy that didn’t look like he was gassed late. Matt Carey, on an AHL deal, looks like he has some skill. Brady Brassart was solid on the PK.
One curious decision: Nate Prosser, sticking up for himself, got into a fight with Marcus Foligno in a pointless 3-on-3 and got clocked. Hopefully he’s OK because he looked stunned afterward. He did leave the ice on his own power.
Biggest impression tonight: Eichel’s a stud. I chatted with the kid this morning. He’s best buds with Wild prospect Louis Belpedio and was excellent filling my notebook on the kid. I’ll write about that at some point.
Bylsma on Eichel’s winner: “You saw the speed and the acceleration on that play.”
Added Darcy Kuemper: “He's obviously a pretty special player to make some of the plays he made out there.”
That’s it for me. I’ll talk to you later Tuesday from Winnipeg. If you missed the lineup, it’s on the previous blog. Also, check out the Star Tribune event I put on that blog on Oct. 6. Come on down and join in our Wild panel.