Golden Knights Analysis
Jack Eichel Has Arrived; Makes Golden Knights Difference
When you’re the second overall pick beyond Connor McDavid, fame is automatic, but success and being a star player are not. Being stuck in the perpetual rebuild of the Buffalo Sabres further buried Jack Eichel and his public perception. Losing stinks and the stink is contagious.
Eichel wore it until he needed back surgery. He and his team wanted disc replacement. The Sabres doctors wanted other courses to remedy the injury. Ultimately, he held firm, and the Vegas Golden Knights gave up a haul for the talented center who toiled in a terminal struggle with Buffalo.
Now Eichel and the Golden Knights are reaping the rewards.
“He’s been playing really well. I’m enjoying playing with him since I got here,” Ivan Barbashev said. “The one thing I’ve been really impressed about is his defensive play. I’ve never seen him play often … seeing him every day it’s been special. He’s done a really good job offensively and defensively.”
One season after injuries decimated the Golden Knights, causing them to miss the playoffs for the first time in their history, they stand on the precipice of their second Stanley Cup Final.
And Eichel is leading the charge.
Eichel jump-started the lifeless team in the third period of Game 2 with a few individual rushes and offensive chances. His energy became the team’s energy, and they rallied for a 3-2 OT win.
“We have to make a real bang-bang play,” coach Bruce Cassidey said. “That’s an elite mind in Jack and Marchessault going to the right spot.”
Dallas’ hangover from Game 2 was obvious.
Just over one minute into Game 3, the Golden Knights forecheck pinned Dallas deep in their own zone. Eichel put himself in the perfect position to cut off any breakout attempt, then lept for a one-handed interception of a desperation clearing attempt.
He quickly settled the puck and zipped a cross-ice pass to Jonathan Marchessault. The Golden Knight scored the first goal (finally) and put Dallas on the defensive.
Dallas unraveled from there. The Eichel play creating the Marchessault goal stood as the game-winner as Dallas spiraled into stupid penalties, frustration, and disjointed hockey.
With the lead, the Golden Knights could play on the right side of the puck. They could breathe and kept the crowd out of the game. The Dallas goonery spotted the Golden Knights a 2-0 lead on the power play ensuing from Jamie Benn’s assault on Mark Stone. They led 3-0 as the realization hit Dallas like a ton of bricks.
The chain of events that broke the Dallas Stars began with a leaping Jack Eichel.
Just as the chain of events that jump-started the Golden Knights in Round Two was another Eichel moment. Just 50 seconds after Connor McDavid scored, Eichel won a puck in front of the net and buried it. Later in the first period, he earned the primary assist on the next VGK goal and capped off three goals in 1:29 with another primary assist.
His defensive work in that game was exemplary. That spark not only launched the Golden Knights in Game 5, but they haven’t lost since.
Sure, the hockey adage is “your best players have to be your best players,” but that’s not always true in the playoffs. Yet, even with the Golden Knights’ extraordinary depth and suffocating line-after-line waves, Eichel has stood out on both ends of the ice.
The center leads the Golden Knights with 16 points in 14 games.
More importantly, he is the difference maker. The team’s best player has been its best player, and he gives coach Bruce Cassidy an element the Golden Knights have not previously had.
The Vegas Golden Knights have a true number-one center.
Top centers win Stanley Cups, and barring a great collapse, that’s what the Golden Knights will be playing for.