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Impact of Jack Eichel’s return on the Vegas Golden Knights

Jack Eichel return Vegas Golden Knights
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Vegas Golden Knights have been anxiously awaiting for newly acquired Jack Eichel to be cleared to play since his artificial disk replacement surgery on November 12th. It’s been a slow process as everyone around the organization has constantly emphasized patience and making sure that he’s 100% ready before bringing him back.

Eichel famously got into a disagreement with his former team, the Buffalo Sabres, over the best way to treat his neck injury. He, and his doctors, wanted to get the artificial disk replacement surgery, one that had never been performed on an active NHL player, which the team felt was too risky considering their large investment. Once he arrived in Vegas, he found an organization with a much different viewpoint.

“We have a lot of respect for all the work that has gone into this. We’ll defer to their [Eichel and his team] wishes, the choice they’re making,” said general manager Kelly McCrimmon shortly after the trade that brought Eichel to the desert.

Earlier on Monday, Eichel finally shed his non-contact jersey and was a full participant in Golden Knights’ practice. This marks a big step in his recovery and he’s not too far off playing in a live game. When that does happen, what can we expect his impact to be?

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Jack Eichel is the Golden Knights’ first true superstar center

jack eichel golden knights return
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no doubt that when Eichel is healthy he has all the tools to be one of the league’s best centers. He has a deadly shot, good vision, and isn’t a defensive liability. The Golden Knights have never had a true number one center of Eichel’s caliber.

There are not many players in the league that can alter a game with a single rush like Eichel can. Despite playing the entirety of his career thus far in dysfunctional Buffalo, he’s still managed to score at almost a point-per-game. In his last full season before the injury, he had 36 goals in just 68 games.

It’s easy to picture Eichel centering the first line in between captain Mark Stone and sniper Max Pacioretty. Eichel is a mix between the two players as he has a deadly shot like Pacioretty while he’s also a strong checker and playmaker like Stone. Those three together would instantly be one of the most-talented lines in the league, and if they have any sort of natural chemistry they would give the Golden Knights a dominant top of line-up.

Another area where Eichel will make a huge impact is on the power play. He’s equally a threat to pick a corner with a wrist shot as he is to slide the puck across the ice to an open teammate. The Golden Knights currently have an average power play, ranked 16th in the NHL. But the addition of Eichel should be a huge help.

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Will Jack Eichel need an adjustment period?

Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres waits for a face off
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a long time since Jack Eichel played in an NHL game, almost a full calendar year to be exact. It’s likely that Eichel will need a few games to get up to full speed, possibly in a slightly reduced role before he assumes his full responsibilities.

However, the Golden Knights have been taking things slow and the hope is that all these practices will have helped Eichel get his legs back. There’s certainly been optimism around his performance in practices.

“There’s been a couple [practices] in the last week where he’s been maybe the best player on the ice,” said head coach Peter DeBoer in early February 2022.

That bodes well for Eichel not needing too much of an adjustment period upon his return to live game action. The Golden Knights do have a small lead on the rest of the Pacific Division, and fortunately, they aren’t in the thick of the playoff race. Even if Eichel does take a few games to get going, it’s not the end of the world.

The Golden Knights are in the envious position of leading the division with a star player ready to join the team soon. Eichel is primed to have a huge impact upon his return, only making the team better than they already are. In a few months, we could be looking back on the Eichel trade as the one that pushed the Golden Knights over the hump they’ve failed to clear in recent years: reaching the Stanley Cup finals.

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