The Buffalo Sabres lost the draft lottery when the Edmonton Oilers were drawn to receive the first overall pick at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft — but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t taking advantage of the gift that will inevitably be Jack Eichel.
WEEI.com reported on Tuesday afternoon that the Sabres had signed Boston University pending free agent Evan Rodrigues, alternate captain for the club in the 2014-2015 season, to an entry level contract. The undrafted forward, who played for the Georgetown Raiders of the Ontario Junior Hockey League prior to his four-year campaign as a skater in the Hockey East NCAA division, recorded a personal high twenty-one goals and forty assists over forty-one games last season.
It’s almost a complete certainty that Rodrigues’ offensive prowess his junior season was a direct result of skating on a line with Eichel, as the rookie phenom broke scoring records and led the team with a mind-blowing seventy-one points over forty games. Prior to Eichel’s arrival at BU, Rodrigues — who stands at five foot ten and 175 lbs — struggled to be a point per game player at the NCAA level. It took until his senior year — where he and Eichel were ahead of Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey as the first and second lead scorers in the nation — to put up the kinds of numbers he did; although he’s got a strong two-way sense and excels at penalty killing, he’ll likely never put up numbers comparable to his iconic senior season at the NHL level.
For Buffalo, though, he’s a brilliant pick-up. As a former linemate of Eichel’s, the Sabres are doing much what the Arizona Coyotes did this last year with Max Domi — collecting teammates that showed clear chemistry and charisma with the players they want to headline the roster moving forward. As a key penalty killer at BU — one who, per Scott McLaughlin of WEEI.com, was described by BU head coach David Quinn as ‘one of the smartest skaters around’ — Rodrigues will provide some defensive prowess and a built-in four years of development when he arrives in Buffalo. He’ll also bring a friend for Eichel, and someone who, in the past, has served as both a mentor and a leadership figure over Eichel — given the projected second overall pick’s already-growing off-ice reputation, that’s far from a bad thing.
The two have four years of skating together to make their transition onto Buffalo’s roster seamless, and Rodrigues -a natural right shot — has shown competency and flexibility when playing either the left or right wing. Few players are able to truly boast that, giving Rodrigues a natural edge.
The weaknesses he brings, of course, are that he’s not the offensively gifted phenom he would appear based on his numbers with Eichel. His sophomore season saw fourteen goals and twenty assists over thirty-six games, but his freshman and junior campaigns saw a disappointing two and five goals apiece, respectively. The Etobicoke, Ontario native led the team to the Frozen Four championship this spring, where they ultimately fell to Providence College, but also contributed in the team’s Beanpot victory earlier in the year. He stays relatively out of trouble, but could also develop a ‘pest’ reputation at the pro level — especially if he gets ice time with the permanently-smirking Eichel — as he was the deliverer of a controversial high-stick to the face of North Dakota captain Stephane Pattyn (signed to a PTO by the AHL Charlotte Checkers this spring) during the Frozen Four tournament.