NHL

The Golden Knights’ big gamble on Jack Eichel is starting to pay off

The Golden Knights’ big gamble on Jack Eichel is starting to pay off

On November 4, 2021, the Vegas Golden Knights they took their winnings from the Wheel of Fortune slot machine, went to the roulette wheel and placed it all on number 9.

This is the day they acquired the Golden Knights Jack Eichel from Buffalo sabers in a very successful trade. It looked like a risky bet at times last season, but it’s finally starting to pay off for Vegas and Eichel himself.

About a year before the NHL announced that Las Vegas would get an expansion franchise, the Sabers selected Eichel with the second overall pick in the draft. In many years, Eichel would have been the No. 1 overall pick, but he shared a draft class with Connor McDavid. Eichel played six frustrating seasons with the Sabres. Despite his 139 goals and 355 points in 375 games with the franchise, the team never made the playoffs with him on the roster. In fact, Buffalo didn’t even finish higher than sixth in the Atlantic Division.

In March 2021, Eichel suffered a neck injury. That’s when everything changed for the player and the Sabres.

Eichel wanted to have disc replacement surgery, but the team disagreed. The Sabers preferred that Eichel undergo fusion surgery to repair the injury and stated that they were not comfortable with the disc replacement procedure because it had not been done before on an NHL player.

That disagreement drove a wedge between player and team, and he was dealt to the Golden Knights before the start of the 2021-22 season. Vegas liked Eichel so much it was willing to gamble on him by sending a massive pitch to Buffalo. The Sabers sent Eichel and a third-round pick to Las Vegas in exchange for the forward Alex fabricperspective Peyton Krebsone first-round pick and one second-round pick.

The Golden Knights allowed Eichel to get the surgery of his choice, but there were still questions about him. For starters, he only had neck surgery that had never been performed on an NHL player, so there was a fair amount of concern about his health. Perhaps somewhat unfairly, there were also concerns about whether Eichel was the type of player around whom a team could build a Stanley Cup contender.

In his first season with Vegas, anyone who voiced those concerns could only turn up the megaphone volume. Eichel’s surgery was successful and he joined the Golden Knights in the second half of the 2021-22 season, when the team was eliminating each and every point from the playoff race.

Eichel played in 34 games for the Golden Knights last year, scoring 14 goals and 25 points. Under the surface, the team controlled just 50.58% of expected goals when Eichel was on the ice at five-on-five, by Natural Stat Trick. It wasn’t a bad debut by any means, but it wasn’t good enough for the team to make the postseason.

For the first time in Las Vegas’ short history, the team watched the entirety of the Stanley Cup playoffs from home.

After that disappointing campaign, Vegas fired head coach Peter DeBoer and brought in former Boston Bruins Bruce Cassidy, Head Coach. In order to accommodate Eichel’s $10 million hit through the entire 2022-23 season, the Golden Knights also traded the star winger. Max Pacioretty and defense Dylan Coghlan to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for future considerations. In hockey terms, that means “a little more than nothing.” Once again, Vegas was betting that Eichel could be the engine that drives the team into Cup contention.

Well, just 13 games into the 2022-23 season, the Golden Knights are winning big.

Eichel has five goals and 14 points, and Vegas has the best record in the NHL at 11-2-0. More importantly, all this success seems sustainable.

According to Natural Stat Trick, Eichel leads the team in five-on-five expected goal share (66.39%). Also, he has found some magic with Mark Stone in his wing These two have been together for over 102 minutes in five-on-five, and are outscoring their opponents 8-1 in that time.

There’s still a long way to go this season, and a lot can change between now and April. However, it looks like Eichel is finally getting comfortable in his new home, and he might get a chance to show what he can do in his first taste of the NHL playoffs this spring.





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