The media attention on Jack Eichel might not be entirely welcome. There was some anonymity coming to the Vegas Golden Knights, and there was some release of the pressure which the Buffalo Sabres and fans placed on him to resurrect a fallen franchise. That didn’t work, but now with a solid team around him, a supportive organization, and adoring fans, life must be a lot sweeter.
Of course, Eichel cannot admit to any of the above, at least not until he publishes his memoirs long after his playing days, but make no mistake, it’s true.
The Golden Knights lead the Dallas Stars 3-1 in the Western Conference Final. Just one more win sets up the Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers. Game 5 is Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena, and the Golden Knights will be leaning on Eichel.
The hockey gossip circles have been chattering for a few months that it’s a new Jack Eichel, one who cares much more about the business of playing hockey and achieving success.
Coach Bruce Cassidy summed up Eichel’s evolution succinctly.
“He just looks more confident, He’s putting himself in situations to demand the puck, and by that, I mean puck support. He’s skating off the puck well, so you’re almost forced to give it to him,” said Cassidy. “He’s finding that ice. (Game 4) was a good example. He was in space quite a bit, had a breakaway, a two-on-one, and some outside drives on a couple of their D. He took them on, one on one. So that’s when you know the guy is feeling it.”
Eichel is the Vegas Golden Knights’ leading scorer. He’s got 17 points in 15 games. In Game 4, he had a healthy seven shots on goal, glided around defensemen, and once pulled the puck through his skates at full speed. He beat defensemen wide and was the noticeable threat on the ice each shift.
In Round Two, he stared down the best player in the world, Connor McDavid, to whom he is inexorably linked by virtue of being selected behind McDavid in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Eichel has scored big goals and single-handedly lifted his team to a Game 2 WCF win by pushing the play in the third period. He dragged a flat team into the fight.
Eichel has become an on-ice leader.
His defensive work in the last couple of rounds has been impressive. Offensive centers must play at both ends of the ice to win a Stanley Cup, but Eichel has embraced the challenge.
Eichel is soft-spoken, so he’s not one to provide the flashy soundbite, but fortunately, Cassidy did.
“So that’s where his game has evolved. I think he’s a little more — just knowing he can be a difference-maker. At the start (of the playoffs), there’s a bit of a feeling-out process for everybody in their first playoff, and I think he got to it fairly quickly,” Cassidy said. “But that’s probably the difference right now. Just a little more. ‘Give me the down puck, and I want to be a difference maker,’ and he’s done it at both ends of the ice.”
It’s probably no coincidence that linemate Jonathan Marchessault is on a heater, too. While Eichel hasn’t scored a goal, he’s had those glorious chances. However, Marchessault has eight goals in his last eight games, including goals in three straight.
Big players rise to big moments, and after the struggles to get to this stage, Eichel is seizing his opportunity.