When injured and disgruntled superstar Jack Eichel was dealt from the Buffalo Sabres to the Vegas Golden Knights, it left fans with one question on their minds: when will we see Eichel take the ice for the first time as a Golden Knight?
We now know the answer: it’ll be against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night, per Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon.
Wednesday’s game will be the first NHL action for Eichel in nearly a calendar year. His last game was back on Mar. 2, 2021, a 5-2 Buffalo loss on the road against the New York Islanders. Now, in their fifth season of existence, Vegas (28-17-3, second in the Pacific division) will be getting the elite first-line center their franchise has never had.
The move came shortly after another big announcement, as captain Mark Stone was put on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) on Monday afternoon due to a back injury. Per McCrimmon, Stone’s length of absence is “undetermined.” Putting Stone’s 9.5-million salary on LTIR opens space to fit Eichel’s 10-million onto the roster and forces the Golden Knights into cap gymnastics once again as the Mar. 21 trade deadline approaches. But this also isn’t the first time a team close to the cap used LTIR to their advantage, either. I’m sure many of you still remember (and maybe even irritated by) the Nikita Kucherov situation.
But unlike Kucherov, Eichel will get game experience before the playoffs, and (assuming the Golden Knights don’t have some spectacular post-trade deadline collapse) it’ll also be Eichel’s first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his seventh season. The cap will be extremely tough to circumnavigate after getting Stone and goaltender Robin Lehner back from injury. Still, Eichel is a franchise-altering talent that very well could be the piece Vegas needs to finally push them over the top. For a team that’s made it to the Western Conference Final (or better) in all but one season of their existence to date, it’s hard not to get excited about how far Eichel can push the needle.
It’ll be interesting to see a few things unfold here as Eichel officially joins the Golden Knights on the ice. First off, his debut should be an outstanding matchup. Last season’s second-round heavyweight battle between Vegas and Colorado was arguably the best series of the entire postseason (in my opinion, only the Islanders-Lightning Semifinal matchup came close, but that’s a debate for another time). Seeing Eichel and Nathan MacKinnon battle it out will be a spectacle for fans across the league, in what very well could be another playoff preview between these two western conference juggernauts.
Pending any other schedule rearranging or postponements, Mar. 13 will be another big date on the calendar as well. As of now, that’s set to be the night that Eichel returns to Buffalo for the first time since the injury saga with Sabres management. It’s always interesting to see what kind of welcome star players get when returning to their former home rinks. Will Sabres fans give the former second overall pick a warm welcome back, or will they take a not-as-warm page out of another New York fanbase’s book when welcoming back their star?
Regardless of what Eichel’s return to Buffalo looks like, that’s a bridge that can be crossed when that day comes. For now, the league and its fans get to celebrate one of its biggest and brightest stars returning to action.