Jack Eichel said he thinks he can be better than ever once he recovers from neck surgery and plays for the Vegas Golden Knights.
The center will have surgery to repair a herniated disk Friday and hopes to debut three months later for the Golden Knights, who acquired him in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday for forwards Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs, and two draft picks.
Eichel, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, scored an NHL-career high 82 points (28 goals, 54 assists) in 77 games in 2018-19 and followed that with 78 points (36 goals, 42 assists) in 68 games in 2019-20.
After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs each of his six seasons with the Sabres, he joins a team that has made the playoffs each season since joining the NHL in 2017-18 and advanced to at least the third round three times.
“I think I’ve got a lot more,” the 25-year-old said Monday. “I think I’m only scratching the surface. Yeah, I think the season a couple years ago, I think that that was sort of the start of the way that I want to make an impact. Coming in here there’s some really good hockey players, and I think this kind of environment, the culture here, is only going to push me to become better.
“I think there’s a lot more in me, and this is about as motivated as I’ve been. I think there’s a lot of people out there that may be doubting me or don’t think I’m going to get back to the form I was in, so look forward to putting all the doubts to rest and getting back to the level that I believe I can play.”
Eichel will have an artificial disk replacement (ADR), a surgery that never has been done on an NHL player.
Last season, Eichel scored 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 21 games, none after March 7 because of his neck injury. He wanted to have the surgery in the spring, but the Sabres were uncomfortable with it and preferred a fusion. The sides remained in a stalemate until the trade to the Golden Knights, who are deferring to Eichel, his agents and his doctors.
“I feel very, very confident in what I’m doing,” Eichel said. “There’s been other players that have dealt with herniated disks in other ways, but from what I’ve gathered speaking to them, they really were never given the option, and I feel very fortunate that my second opinion gave me this option to look at as being the superior surgery.
“I just went out, did as much research, learned as much as I could about it, and I feel very, very confident that I’m making the right decision.”
Eichel said the long road to this point has been for the best.
“In hindsight, yeah, you look at it like, ‘Oh yeah, I would have loved to get surgery [in the spring],'” he said. “I think everything happens for a reason. All the stuff that I went through all summer and dealt with helped bring me to this point here, and I couldn’t be happier to be here. So in the grand scheme of the time of the whole process, it’s going to be a short time, and three months down the road it’ll all be behind us.”