He's in the best shape of his life. His goal is to win the Stanley Cup. He has a sour taste in his mouth about how last season ended.
It's easy to find hockey players spitting these cliches on the brink of a new season. Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel was a bit more candid and descriptive about both his summer and his path to the NHL in an interview with ESPN.com during the league's media tour in New York last week. Eichel, who is entering the final season of his three-year rookie contract, missed the first 21 games of the 2016-17 season with a sprained ankle but still led the Sabres with 57 points.
Behind the scenes, Eichel's reps and Sabres management are negotiating a long-term deal to keep the 20-year-old Boston University product in Buffalo. During his conversation with ESPN.com, Eichel discussed how he likes to be coached, how he hopes offseason workouts with Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand will help him in the defensive zone and the school pride he feels for his two "alma maters" -- Boston University and the Online School of Missouri.
ESPN.com: Your nonhockey buddies must always ask what it's like to play in the NHL. What do you tell them that might surprise them?
Eichel: Guys always want to know about your lifestyle, what your day-to-day [schedule] is. I don't know if they're surprised or not, but if you wake up at 8:30, go to the rink, practice at 11, maybe work out, maybe you don't, more times than not you're back on your couch watching TV at 1:30 or 2 o'clock.
ESPN.com: Do you train in Boston in the offseason?
Eichel: Yeah. A lot of guys will go back and train, even if they're not from Boston, because there are a lot of workout guys or skill guys or skating coaches. This summer I switched it up a little bit. I got a new, one-on-one trainer. In the past years, I trained with a lot of NHL guys: the Hayes brothers, Keith Yandle, [Noah] Hanifin. There's a big group of guys who work out in Foxborough [Massachusetts]. I worked out with them and skated with them. But I switched up my routine a little bit this summer, went with something new and worked out with a new trainer. I got to skate with [Brad] Marchand and [Patrice] Bergeron at the Warrior practice facility, where the Bruins practice. [After] having to chase Marchand every day, hopefully I'll do better in the D-zone and do better on that plus/minus.
ESPN.com: Why did you switch things up?
Eichel: Just wanted something new. I thought it would be a little less stressful. I live in the city, so to drive to Foxborough every day, it's not the shortest drive. There's a lot of traffic, it's a bit of haul. You spend time in the car, you spend time in traffic. It definitely takes a toll on you mentally.
ESPN.com: What has your interaction been like so far with new Sabres coach Phil Housley?
Eichel: I've spoken with him a few times on the phone, and I just met him. He seems like a really down-to-earth guy. He can have a conversation with you that doesn't involve hockey. As players you appreciate that. When he got the job he called me, and we had a good conversation. He told me the way he wants to play this year, what his expectations are.
ESPN.com: How do you like to be coached?
Eichel: If coaches are hard on me, they're hard on me. That's fine. I also like my coaches to have a personality. I want them to be able to talk to me about things that aren't about hockey. You come to the rink every day and some days you're in a good mood and some days you're in a bad mood. I like coaches to be able to relate to me a little bit. I've had hard coaches, I've had easy coaches, and it doesn't matter to me how they are as [far as] their personality. I just want to be able to know them outside the neutral-zone forecheck and the offensive zone.
ESPN.com: When was the last time you cried?
Eichel: I'm a pretty emotional guy, actually, so probably recently. I cry just watching sad videos online. I think I saw a video of somebody at a baseball game -- this wasn't crying, maybe just like shedding tears -- but, yeah, somebody at the baseball game threw out the first pitch to his dad. He was in the catcher's uniform and had just come back from serving overseas. I think those are pretty cool.
ESPN.com: You're a big football fan. Did you draft a fantasy football team yet?
Eichel: I like my team. We'll see how it goes. I wasn't projected great, but I had the first-overall pick, so I took Le'Veon Bell. I had David Johnson last year, and he was great for me, but I figure Le'Veon [is entering] a contract year, the Steelers are going to be a little bit better than the Cardinals.
The league is with all of my buddies back home, a bunch of kids I went to BU with. One of my friends took like six Patriots. We're all pretty competitive. We play a PPR league, but I don't think [Tom Brady] went for a while. The highest Pats player drafted was probably Brandin Cooks. We have a team [on the Sabres] too, and the draft is actually [Sept. 7]. I don't know who the commissioner is. Our commish got traded, so someone else had to step up. I think [Ryan] O'Reilly did.
ESPN.com: When you were younger, did you play other sports?
Eichel: I played everything, except for football.
ESPN.com: When did you specialize in hockey?
Eichel: Eighth grade was probably my last year playing other sports. I think it's important to play a lot of sports, to be good at other things. One, it gets your mind off hockey or what your main sport is. It also makes you more athletic, which will help you in your main sport. I played everything -- soccer, baseball. Baseball was probably my second sport. I was really passionate about it.
ESPN.com: There are so many paths that guys can take to get to the NHL. Going to college obviously worked out for you, but if you could do it again, would you do the same? Do you have any curiosity about how your hockey career would have been different if you played junior instead?
Eichel: I wouldn't change a thing. That was the best year of my life. I loved every minute at BU. It was everything I could ask for.
ESPN.com: What was the best class you took in college?
Eichel: History of Boston.
ESPN.com: What did you learn?
Eichel: [long pause]
ESPN.com: Was that a jock class?
Eichel: Yeah. It was the old 6-9 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday nights.
ESPN.com: What did you major in?
Eichel: I went to the general studies school, so it was pretty much get your requirements done for the first two years, then transfer to your major.
ESPN.com: I remember seeing that your high school diploma is from Missouri Online High School.
Eichel: Yeah. I did three years of high school. So I did Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, then the national team. You just need a certain number of credits to graduate high school. You have your requirements. So I did all of my requirements, then I would take classes online. I started taking them my freshman year of high school. I would take some during the summer, some during the season, whether it be one class or two. It just so happened that after I finished high school in Ann Arbor, I had half a class to do, so I finished my half a class from the online school. Yeah, tons of school pride at the Sunset Public Library, doing it on my computer.
ESPN.com: If you weren't a hockey player, what would you be doing right now?
Eichel: That's a great question. I would still be in college, but I wouldn't be at BU. I wasn't a bad student in high school, but I probably wasn't smart enough to go to BU. I probably would have gone to a school out west in California, or the South. I always thought it would be cool to be in the CIA or Homeland Security. It's obviously kind of scary, but if you watch enough shows about it, you get curious enough.
ESPN.com: Sounds like you've watched "Homeland."
Eichel: I did watch it a little bit. But then I was going overseas for a little bit, so I stopped watching it because I didn't want to spook myself out.
ESPN.com: What shows do you like?
Eichel: I like "The Challenge" on MTV. Ever seen that?
ESPN.com: I have. That still exists?
Eichel: Oh yeah, [it's the] 30th season this year. They have this guy, Johnny Bananas, he's still going. He's old, but he's still kicking. They did a champs versus pros, where they had actual professional athletes [against] champions of "The Challenge." Pros did surprisingly pretty well in some of the challenges. But the people from "The Challenge" are good at a lot of the weird challenges, like puzzles or something like that. I think I'd do pretty good. Maybe I need to start doing a little more crossfit.