Eichel: Second Banana No More
Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
3 months ago
It didn’t take very long after the Vegas Golden Knights waxed the fading Florida Panthers 9-3 to win the Stanley Cup for meme-makers to point out that Jack Eichel, second banana to Connor McDavid since the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, will get a Cup ring and have his name engraved on the silverware first.
True enough, although it took the Buffalo Sabres trading the second overall pick to Las Vegas in November 2021 to set up the celebration that ignited the party in Sin City as the Golden Knights sipped suds in just their sixth NHL season. So yes, if any rivalry or comparison with McDavid is your thing, Eichel is first across the line – despite not having played even a single playoff game until this post-season.
That out of the way, there’s more to the story about Eichel, the kid from North Chelmsford, Mass., than that. Not the least of which is he tallied 6-20-26 to finish atop playoff scorers when he finally did make it to the post-season. The trade out of Buffalo and the road to Tuesday has been marked by much drama and plenty of twists and turns along the way.
When Eichel suffered a herniated disc during the 2020-21 season, he insisted on having a relatively new procedure known as artificial disc replacement (ADR) surgery. Buffalo’s medical staff preferred a fusion procedure. When Eichel failed his physical at camp in 2021, the Sabres stripped him of his captaincy, then sent him to Las Vegas in November 2021.
THE ROAD BACK
May 12, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel (9) awaits a face off against the Edmonton Oilers during the second period of game five of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
I remember thinking at the time, and maybe some of you did too, that this chapter in Eichel’s still young career — a major surgery and a trade to a new team – might be the beginning of the end for him after six losing seasons and no sniff of the playoffs with the Sabres. Well, no. Not even close. Here we are.
“It’s the hardest thing in the world,” Eichel told Tracy Myers of NHL.com. “So many people go through their whole career without having the opportunity to hoist a Stanley Cup. I think it’s only human nature to let some doubt creep in when you don’t make the playoffs for an extended period of time. You’re wondering if it will ever happen.
“Then, you come here and you start to feel the culture and I don’t know. I thought we just believed in ourselves through the whole playoffs. We knew the type of team we had. A lot of things have to go right for you to win it. I mean, we stayed healthy for the most part. We had contributions from everyone. I don’t know, it was a pretty special run and to cap it off like this here at home makes it that much better.”
If I’m honest, Eichel showed me a lot more guts and game in these playoffs than I thought he had. He was a force. Teammate and playoff MVP Jonathan Marchessault put it this way: “Honestly, ever since he came in last year, we were just a different team and he’s a game-changer for our group. He’s been unbelievable.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
After 476 regulation games and 22 more in this year’s playoffs, it looks like Eichel and the rest of these Golden Knights, already ridiculously good for the vast majority of their time in the NHL, are on their way forward with lots of good hockey left in them.
With the ring being the thing, as the old saying goes, the Golden Knights are the champions and Eichel is a second banana no more.
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