Any other year, Jack Eichel would be striding to the podium at BB&T Center on Friday night, celebrating his selection as the top pick of the NHL Draft.
Only Eichel will have to wait a few extra minutes before his name is called.
Connor McDavid, who was called the next Sidney Crosby at 15, will be the top selection by Edmonton.
Eichel, also considered a “generational talent,” will go second to Buffalo.
He seems just fine joining the Sabres.
Buffalo sure is glad to be getting him.
“Everyone around here seems pretty excited about what’s going on with the Sabres future,” Eichel said at the NHL Draft Combine held across the street from the Sabres’ arena earlier this month.
“Everyone has been really welcoming, and although nothing is set in stone, this looks like where I will end up. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the locals, like ‘welcome home’ and ‘we’re happy to have you here.’ People here really care about the Sabres.”
Eichel hasn’t officially said whether he will join the Sabres this coming season or return to Boston University for his sophomore year.
Eichel told the Buffalo News after taking batting practice at Marlins Park he was nearing a decision.
“I think there’s kind of a little update so I guess we’ll find out sooner rather than later,” Eichel told reporters on the field.
As a freshman, Eichel helped the Terriers rebound from a 10-21-4 season.
Led by Eichel’s 26 goals and 45 assists, Boston University went 28-8-5 and advanced to the Frozen Four where it lost 4-3 in the national championship game to Providence.
Eichel became only the second freshman (Paul Kariya, Maine in 1993) to win the Hobey Baker Award as the top hockey player in the nation.
“I had high expectations for myself going into the year,” Eichel said. “It was a pretty quick turnaround to see how successful we were.”
Said NHL director of central scouting Dan Marr: “It’s exceptional what Jack did. He exceeded expectations. Everyone knew that he was going to have a good year. For him to step in and just kind of take charge and take control there, it shows how special of a player he is.”
In Buffalo, fans are awaiting a rebirth of the Sabres after a few down years.
For the second consecutive season, Buffalo finished at the bottom of the NHL standings yet saw another team win the draft lottery and the right to the top pick.
Last year, Florida jumped from second to first, and this year it was Edmonton leapfrogging the Sabres and the rights to McDavid.
Knowing there were a pair of top-end players to select from made the pain of losing a player such as McDavid a little easier in Western New York.
After the season, the Sabres fired coach Ted Nolan and replaced him with former Pittsburgh coach Dan Byslma.
“People here knew the chances were pretty good the Sabres would be getting Eichel, so they’ve been tuned into that — and watching his games — all season,” said Paul Hamilton, a Sabres’ radio host.
“People looked at it as it would be great to get McDavid, but it would be great to get Eichel as well. There was no disappointment. You’re fine with either one.’’
As for Eichel, Buffalo seems like a great fit as he heads to as passionate a hockey market as there is in the United States.
“I’ve done a decent job of getting out and exploring the city,” said Eichel, a native of Massachusetts. “Everyone talks about Buffalo’s chicken wings, and I got a chance to enjoy those. I’m just trying to take it all in.”
The Panthers will open the 2015-16 season on Oct.10 at home against the Flyers. Florida will then travel to Philadelphia and be part of the Flyers’ opening-night festivities on Oct.12.
The entire NHL schedule will be released Thursday.
The top prospects had their first official draft outing Wednesday as six players (Eichel, McDavid, Lawson Crouse, Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner and Noah Hanifin) took batting practice at Marlins Park while outfitted in custom Marlins home jerseys.
“I felt like I was on a golf course, popping too many up and getting under everything,” Eichel told the Buffalo News.
McDavid and Eichel were scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Miami’s game against the St. Louis Blues.
2015 NHL Draft
Top prospects clinic at Florida Panthers IceDen, Coral Springs; 10:30-noon (free)
Round 1 at BB&T Center, Sunrise; 7 p.m. (NBCSN)
Rounds 2-7 at BB&T Center, Sunrise: 10 a.m. (NHLN)