Last season Jack Eichel’s left wing seemed like a revolving door with Marcus Foligno, Matt Moulson, Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, and Tyler Ennis all getting stints on his line. Somewhere on Jason Botterill’s to-do list will be to fill that void for Eichel. Reports have surfaced from Elliotte Friedman and Bob McKenzie, suggesting that Evander Kane is likely on his way out of Buffalo. With a near 30 goal scorer likely not in the lineup game one, the Sabres will have to look to fill that void in the top six while also finding a linemate for Eichel.
Eichel’s most frequent line mate last season was Sam Reinhart on the right wing, who he played with 83.4% of the time at even strength. On the left wing, Eichel’s most frequent line mates were Marcus Foligno and Matt Moulson. Foligno played around 41% of the time on Eichel’s wing and Moulson played around 23% of the time. While Eichel and Reinhart seemed to thrive off of each other, Moulson and Foligno looked like they were anchors for that line. Foligno only produced 23 points all year and Moulson had 32 points with 18 of them coming on the power play.
Finding a winger with speed and finishing ability will be the ideal player for Eichel’s wing. If Botterill is going to bring over the Penguins philosophy then playing competent wingers on our star players wing will lead to success. Players like Chris Kunitz, and now Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel, are very good players in their own right but have taken their production to the next level playing on Sidney Crosby’s wing. While I understand Crosby is the best player in the world, I’m looking more so at the idea that a competent winger will enjoy greater success when playing with a star player than in the bottom six.
The Sabres will have a few options within the organization, with prospects like Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, Alex Nylande and Hudson Fasching looking to make the jump to the NHL next year. Out of those three, however, I believe Nick Baptiste would be the best option to play on Eichel’s left wing next season. Baptiste is known for his speed and goal scoring ability. Scoring over 40 goals in his last two seasons in the OHL, counting the playoffs. This past season in Rochester, Baptiste was able to increase his goals to 25 from 13 the previous year. In his 14 games in the NHL this past season he did show flashes but not consistently. The highlight of his season was when he recorded a two point game after an unexpected call up against the St. Louis Blues. Baptiste scored a nifty five hole goal after a beautiful feed from Jack Eichel.
The Sabres could look outside of the organization via trade or free agency with players like Jordan Eberle, Thomas Vanek, and even Russian options in Evgeni Dadonov or the outside chance of Ilya Kovalchuk. However, the Sabres should look to move forward with somewhat of a youth movement. While the players mentioned above would no doubt add some production to the lineup, moving forward with a new crop of young, speedy, and offensive forwards is the way to go.
If Baptiste were to make the jump the NHL next season and play on Eichel’s wing, it wouldn’t surprise me if he were to score 20 goals. Baptiste is exactly what the Sabres need in the top six and will add speed, skill, and a knack for finding the back of the net to a team that is looking for goal scorers. The Sabres will undoubtedly exhaust all options to try and add goal scoring to the lineup but Baptiste could be the answer for Jack Eichel.
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