Here it is – the moment Vegas Golden Knights fans have been waiting for ever since the news broke that Jack Eichel was indeed heading to the VGK in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres back in November.

If you’re unfamiliar with the saga so far, here’s the short-short version. Eichel had a neck injury while playing for the Sabres. He decided he wanted a synthetic disc replacement surgery which isn’t common in the US, while the Sabres wanted him to have spinal fusion surgery. He refused and never played for Buffalo again, traded for far below his market value to the Golden Knights who allowed him to go with the synthetic disc.

Roughly three months after the surgery, he’s ready to go.

Eichel was drafted second behind Connor McDavid, who many see as the most talented player of his generation. Eichel has languished in Buffalo, trying to lead bad teams to mediocrity while enduring both front office and coaching changes as well as poor drafting and deal-making. Despite the rotating door of personnel in and out of Buffalo, Eichel still put up solid numbers and said little until his injury.

Now, the VGK gets a player who will get a chance to shine as the top center on a talented roster. Not only is he an exciting skater and dynamic playmaker, but Eichel’s game has matured in many areas that dogged him early on – including knowing when to shoot the puck. Fans can expect a balanced output from Eichel, and even though Mark Stone has been moved to Long Term Injured Reserve with a back injury, he will still get a chance to develop chemistry with Max Pacioretty who has battled injury issues of his own this season.

In fact, between Pacioretty and Stone the pair have only played a total of 49 games combined, while the Vegas Golden Knights have played 48 this season. Having one of your top two forwards out almost every night and still being at the top of your division is impressive. Now with Eichel adding his career total of almost a point-per-game (tallied with a sub-par team) Vegas has a chance to separate itself from the pack.

When it comes to immediately noticeable on-ice impact, his presence will be most felt on the power play. Those minutes tend to be less taxing physically for a player just returning from injury. They also reward skill and creativity. For a Golden Knights power play unit that has been sitting in the bottom-middle of the pack, his presence should bring a welcome boost.

Just how good has Eichel been on the power play?

In Buffalo, Eichel’s power play opportunities were good as he saw first-unit time almost from the outset. But if we look at his last full season before his injury (2019-2020) we see a few eye-popping numbers. After putting up decent possession metrics in relative Corsi-for percentage and relative Fenwick-for percentage the preceding two seasons, in 19-20 Eichel put up a 9.7 CF% rel and an 11.0 FF% rel. Compare that to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov. In Kucherov’s best seasons, he managed a CF% rel of 6.7, and a 5.3 FF% rel.

In short, it means that when Eichel is on the ice for the power play, his team gets the puck and keeps it, leading to increased scoring chances. In fact, those metrics are even slightly better than Connor McDavid’s best season of 2018-19.

Eichel also finished with a career-best 11 power play goals and 27 power play points. The math shows us that he scored roughly 30 percent of Buffalo’s 37 power play goals for the year, and had a hand in on a whopping 70.2% of them. That season, Eichel also finished with a career-high 36 goals and 78 points despite being on a team that recorded only 193 goals-for, which means he had a hand in 40.4% of his team’s total scoring for the season.

Jack Eichel the superstar

What it also means to fans of the Vegas Golden Knights is that for the first time since Marc-Andre Fleury, the team has a bonafide superstar on the roster. No disrespect to Stone, Pacioretty, or even Alex Pietrangelo (who I feel is still underappreciated). Eichel is going to draw VGK fans to the edge of their seats in anticipation of what’s coming next every time he has the puck. The great news is that Pacioretty is a shooter. He finishes plays. In a perfect world, Pacioretty takes advantage of Eichel’s playmaking ability and puts a buzz back in the arena.

And looking ahead to the playoffs, if all three are healthy it could propel the Golden Knights to a Stanley Cup Final berth once again. The line of Pacioretty – Eichel – Stone should be one of the league’s best by far, and I can’t help but think of how dynamic those three could be together.

In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for Eichel’s debut on Wednesday night. Just don’t take your eyes off him while he’s on the ice.

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