Given that they both belong to a small club of Massachusetts hockey players in the NHL, Matt Grzelcyk and Jack Eichel would be solid friends regardless of their background.
But it goes one step further with Grzelcyk and Eichel playing on the same Boston University team in 2014-15 that made it all the way to the National Championship game before falling to Providence College. Grzelcyk was a 20-year-old junior defenseman and Eichel was the teenaged prodigy who scored 71 points in 40 college hockey games before jumping right to the Buffalo Sabres.
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Grzelcyk and Eichel remain close friends, and that gave the Bruins defenseman some unique perspective on his friend’s struggles in Buffalo after missing the playoffs in each of his first five seasons with the Sabres.
It’s led to speculation that interested teams like the Bruins might try to pry the young superstar out of Buffalo as Eichel prepares for another rebuild with all-new faces in hockey management. Certainly it also makes Grzelcyk appreciate the run of success he’s had with the Bruins since breaking in with his hometown team several seasons ago.
The disparity between the Bruins and Sabres in the Atlantic Division is pretty stunning.
“I know that it’s a tough situation, especially for Jack. He’s one of my good friends. I know firsthand how competitive he is and how much he wants to win more than anything. He’s not really concerned with individual accolades or anything like that. He’s aware that you have the most fun at the rink when you’re winning,” said Grzelcyk, during a Zoom video call with Bruins reporters on Tuesday morning. “It’s for sure very frustrating for him. I haven’t really had the opportunity to talk to him about that. I’m sure he’s getting texts left and right about the situation that’s going on.
“But it certainly makes you look inward and how grateful I am to play for such a great organization [in the Bruins]. We have such good leaders and such good veterans and guys that have been there before, and they know what it takes to get the job done. I’m so blessed to be on this team. Going through the experiences in the playoffs helps you grow each and every season. I know Jack is quite antsy to get into the playoff picture and play in those important games, and shine in those big moments. I just hope he can reach that goal soon and we can see his full potential.”
Buffalo, of course, cleaned house this month by firing GM Jason Botterill along with over 20 members of management and the scouting department, and the 23-year-old Sabres star voiced his clear frustration a couple of months ago.
It remains to be seen how long Eichel is going to remain patient in Buffalo, but there are a lot of curious eyes watching that situation as next season will be 10 years since the Sabres have even qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.