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Since entering the NHL in 2017, the Vegas Golden Knights have set the bar extremely high. In their inaugural season, the Golden Knights made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before being defeated by the Washington Capitals.

Since that moment, Vegas has been chasing championship glory. They’ve pulled out all the stops throughout the brief history of their franchise in an attempt to win the Stanley Cup:

As you can see, Vegas has never been afraid to acquire offensive talent in an attempt to put the franchise in the Stanley Cup conversation. The Golden Knights have no problem parting with elite prospects and draft picks in order to get these deals done.

For that reason, it came as no surprise that the Golden Knights acquired center Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. With the acquisition of Eichel, is there a more star-studded forward group than what has been assembled in Vegas? I’d venture to say no.

Now, it is worth noting that the Golden Knights have been bitten by the injury bug in the opening weeks of the 2021-22 season. Pacioretty (fractured foot), Stone (lower-body injury) and William Karlsson (lower-body injury) are all out of the lineup right now.

It would be phenomenal if the Golden Knights could have Eichel step onto the ice immediately, but unfortunately that’s not an option. The entire reason the Sabres shipped Eichel out of Buffalo is due to an injury. He plans to have artificial disk replacement surgery (one that the Sabres refused to let him have) to repair his current neck injury and that’s expected to happen in the near future.

Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon estimates that Eichel could be out of action for up to five months, but no one really knows an exact timetable.

“It’s challenging to give a timeframe because it’s never been done before in this sport,” McCrimmon said of Eichel’s surgery on Thursday. “I keep thinking 4-5 months, 3-4 months, but I say that because I see you all grab your pens and write that down, but we really don’t know, and I’m not trying to suggest we do know. But that might be the best guess I can give you right now.”

Despite getting off to a 5-5-0 start, the Golden Knights will have plenty of time to make up the ground in the Pacific Division. The Edmonton Oilers look like they’ve made the jump to one of the elite teams in the league, but aside from that, the Golden Knights have the most talent assembled on any given roster in the division. It’s unlikely that the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks keep playing above their heads.

The Golden Knights could choose to give Eichel the same treatment that the Tampa Bay Lightning gave Nikita Kucherov last season. Kucherov had hip surgery, was absent for the regular season and didn’t return until the Stanley Cup Playoffs got underway. 

Much like the Lightning, the Golden Knights are deep enough to survive the duration of the regular season without Eichel if they have to. Stone has begun skating and could be returning to the ice in the near future. As long as Pacioretty and Karlsson return around their given timetables, it’s hard to imagine Vegas not being a playoff team later in the year.

Once Eichel does return, it’s highly likely that he ends up centering the top line. His playmaking ability has out of this world at times in Buffalo. With a stable of goal scorers around him, it’s hard to imagine Eichel not putting up video game-type numbers, assuming he completely recovers from the neck injury.

During his six-year NHL career, Eichel has:

  • Accumulated 355 points (139 goals and 216 assists) while registering
  • A whopping 25 of those 139 goals are game-winning goals
  • Aside from the 2020-21 season in which he only played in 21 games, Eichel has registered at least 56 points in every season he’s played

While his goal-scoring acumen can never be called into question, Eichel’s puck handling and playmaking ability is really what sets him apart from so many others. His assist numbers increased in each of his first four seasons and the 25-year old had a career-high 54 helpers during the 2018-19 campaign. The 2019-20 season was heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and last season Eichel was out a lot due to injury, otherwise he may have eclipsed his assist numbers yet again.

The Golden Knights entered the season as one of the top contenders to win the Stanley Cup Finals. Even if Eichel returns just for the postseason, this becomes an even more special group that could finally break through the proverbial glass ceiling and win it all after coming so close on multiple occasions.