Vegas Golden Knights General Manager Kelly McCrimmon felt Stanley Cup-winning teams had two commonalities, a No. 1 center, and No. 1 defensemen. October 2020 Alex Pietrangelo signed with the Golden Knights for seven years at just under $9 million per year. Just over a year later, McCrimmon acquired Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres for Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs. The Golden Knights had their “ones,” a No. 1 center and No. 1 defensemen.
Pietrangelo and Eichel were former captains as well.
”It’s not that we are targeting captains, but we do target really good people, some of whom that have been captains,” McCrimmon said at the Stanley Cup Final media day.
I asked McCrimmon what drew the Golden Knights to Jack Eichel besides his skill.
“Scouts felt strongly, and it was underappreciated, his physical strength and competitiveness have really been on display in the playoffs,” he said. “In terms of evaluating players around the league, you need to do it in situations that are required. Jack didn’t really have that ability in Buffalo along the way. Jack was a young captain in Buffalo and gets here in a room of really good leaders.”
Eichel had to shoulder most of the load in Buffalo as a young captain. Rumors swirled about his locker room antics and how good a teammate he was. At nearly a point-per-game pace in Buffalo for the better part of five seasons, there was no questioning Eichel’s skill; he simply wasn’t ready to shoulder the responsibility of being an NHL captain.
Besides Mark Stone, no one wanted it more than Eichel once the playoffs started. In the regular season, Eichel finished with 66 points in 67 games, .985 points per game. Eichel elevated his game in the playoffs by scoring 26 points in 22 games, 1.181 points per game, and led all players in points scored.
“He’s a game changer. When you think of Jack Eichel, he’s definitely up there with the best players in the league. We needed a guy to be a first-line center. We needed someone not to score 80 and not be minus at the end of the year. We needed a guy to be a first-line center and carry us to the playoffs and be our best player all year, and all playoffs,” Jonathan Marchessault said on the Spittin’ Chiclets show.
In Eichel’s first four seasons in Buffalo, he scored 259 points and averaged a minus-16. Last year Eichel was a plus-26. In the playoffs, Eichel was a plus-14. Eichel delivered exactly what Marchessault asked for.
Pietrangelo has been the rock of the Golden Knights’ defensemen. Averaging between 23:59 and 24:26 minutes of ice time per night in his first seasons with the Golden Knights, Pietrangelo is as steady as they come.
The Golden Knights lacked a No. 1 defensemen for seasons one through three. Someone they could turn to when it mattered most. Someone the other four players could turn to on the ice in the most critical of situations.
Pietrangelo has a very calm yet deliberate demeanor.
I asked Pietrangelo about the vibe of the locker room after the Golden Knights dropped three straight games in January. Pietrangelo fired back quickly that everything was fine. The team would show up for work the next day. It was a very quick answer, and at the time it seemed like Pietrangelo blew my question off.
Knowing how this team bounced back from tough situations from that point forward, Pietrangelo was giving me an honest answer. He was not shaken up by a three-game home losing streak and was not going to let the team feel bad about themselves.
Credit McCrimmon for identifying a key area of opportunity and addressing it by getting “The Ones.”