Before they were even in the National Hockey League together, Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid have been compared to each other. Similar to Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the two superstars have been pinned up against each other as top young players that the NHL markets around.
Both were in the same 2015 NHL Draft class together. The Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres both knew they were getting a franchise center and generational talent no matter who selected who.
It has been seven years since then and Connor McDavid now has 600 points in his NHL career with the Oilers. Things are a little bit different on Jack Eichel’s end. After a rift between the Sabres and Eichel regarding his injury status, Eichel requested a trade.
On November 4, 2021, Eichel was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in a much anticipated blockbuster deal. With Eichel now on the Golden Knights, which are in the same division as McDavid’s Oilers, what does this mean for the Eichel/McDavid player rivalry?
Last Friday, Eichel underwent successful artificial disk replacement surgery which will keep him out at least until after the NHL’s Olympic Break in February 2022. The Oilers and Golden Knights have three matchups against one another remaining in the regular season. But the only reasonable date on which we could see Eichel vs McDavid is April 16th in Edmonton.
However, there is a good chance that the two players could meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, an area in which neither player has succeeded.
McDavid’s Oilers have made the postseason three times but have only made it past the first round once. Eichel has never played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Golden Knights and Oilers have never played each other in a playoff series as well.
With both the Oilers and Golden Knights looking like Stanley Cup contenders, and both McDavid and Eichel in their prime, who will win a Cup first? Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel?
The Case For Connor McDavid
I think we can all agree that Connor McDavid is the better overall player compared to Eichel. But at the end of the day, hockey is a team sport and I am willing to bet that McDavid would trade in all of his major NHL awards for a Stanley Cup.
The Oilers are off to a solid start in 2021-22 with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl leading the way. They are on pace for 158 and 181 points respectively which is absolutely insane. But do McDavid and Draisaitl need to “change up their game” to win in the playoffs as former NHL coach John Tortorella suggests?
We will have to wait until this year’s playoffs to see, but all signs are pointing towards the Oilers to make the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They currently sit first in the Pacific Division standings with 22 points and McDavid and Drasiatal will continue to score.
The Oilers’ shot at the Stanley Cup
Going anywhere in the playoffs is the real question. History has not been kind to the Oiler’s recent playoff efforts. Last season they failed to win a playoff game and were swept by the Winnipeg Jets. They have missed the playoffs in two of McDavid’s years on the team, and if you count their loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2020 qualifying round, then that number goes up to three.
Depth scoring, goaltending, and defense have troubled the Oilers in their recent playoff runs. McDavid and Draisaitl performed well in the playoffs last season both scoring at least a point per game. But the scoring drop-off was duly noted as Zack Kassian was tied for third in Oiler’s playoff scoring last season.
We have seen the depth scoring for the Oilers improve this season with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi, and newcomer Zach Hyman contributing. The defense has also taken an interesting direction with Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith being brought in and Tyson Barrie returning.
Goaltending is still a question mark for the Oilers as this season they are going with Mikko Koskinen, Mike Smith, and Stuart Skinner. Smith has once again found himself on injured reserve, and at 39 years old, you have to wonder if he is anywhere near a Stanley Cup caliber goaltender. The same goes for Koskinen.
Once more it looks like the Oilers will be a team that will only go as far as McDavid and Draisaitl can take them in the playoffs. But with an improved overall roster from last season, the issues that have haunted the Oilers in years past could begin to fade and the Oilers could go on a run as soon as this spring.
The Case for Jack Eichel
Eichel is joining a loaded Golden Knights roster that has tons of playoff experience. Salary cap issues aside, Eichel will be added to a lineup that features Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Shea Theodore, Alex Pietrangelo, Robin Lehner, and the misfit line of William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault.
To put in perspective just how geared up the Golden Knights are for a long playoff run, Eichel will be the third Golden Knight that was once a former captain of another NHL team. He joins Alex Pietrangelo and Max Pacioretty in that regard.
As we all know too well, injuries have been a cause for concern for the Golden Knights so far this season. But by the time the Stanley Cup Playoffs come around, the Golden Knights should have key players like Pacioretty, Karlsson, and Eichel himself back in the lineup.
In the team’s five years of existence, the Golden Knights have seven playoff series wins. It seems as if the Golden Knights are right on the cusp of winning their first-ever Stanley Cup in franchise history, and Jack Eichel may be the missing piece the team needs.
The Golden Knights’ shot at the Stanley Cup
Until Eichel and company are able to return, the main focus of the Golden Knights will be to improve on the other areas of their game. The Golden Knight’s depth scoring has been stellar lately with guys like Nicolas Roy and Chandler Stephenson stepping up. Goaltending is another area where the Golden Knights are strong as Robin Lehner has been Vezina-level this season.
It will be interesting to see how head coach Peter DeBoer and the Golden Knights handle their players coming back from injury. General manager Kelly McCrimmon might have to make some moves in order to get underneath the NHL Salary Cap.
But if you were to ask me right now which team would win in a seven-game series I would go with the Golden Knights. They simply have the Oilers beat in just about every single category. While the Oilers have the far better single players with McDavid and Draisaitl, two players can not singlehandedly win a team trophy.
The Golden Knights have an offensively balanced lineup with some weapons on the defensive side of things to compliment them. Lehner is one of the best goaltenders in the league. Eichel has not even laced up the skates for the Golden Knights yet.
As of 2021-22, I think it is safe to say that Jack Eichel currently has a better shot at getting his first Stanley Cup than Connor McDavid does.