Eichel hopes to play for Golden Knights three months after having surgery

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Jack Eichel said he expects to be on the ice for the Vegas Golden Knights three months after upcoming surgery on a herniated disk in his neck. 

The center, acquired by the Golden Knights in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, will have the artificial disk replacement (ADR) surgery he wanted, which the Sabres had said their doctors weren’t comfortable with, given it had not been performed on an NHL player.

With the Golden Knights’ permission, Eichel will have the ADR surgery in Denver on Nov. 12, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“The rehab process, you’re working out probably a week to 10 days post-operation,” Eichel told NHL Network on Friday. “It’s not like you’re doing a workout with heavy weights or anything, but you’re able to move around. Hopefully at six weeks I’ll be able to get back on the ice and start skating. And I’m hoping around 12 weeks, three months, that I’ll be back playing.”

He said in six months he expects to feel “100 percent, back to normal.”

Eichel has not played since March 7. He scored 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 21 games last season and scored 355 points (139 goals, 216 assists) in 375 games in six seasons with the Sabres, who selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. 

“I think you’re always nervous whenever you’re going to get surgery,” Eichel said. “In my case I’ve never been on the table. I’ve never had an operation, never been under anesthesia. So it’s all a first for me. 

“But with that being said, I think the one thing about how long the process has taken, is it’s given me a long time to do a lot of research, talk to a lot of different doctors and get a lot of opinions and make sure that, No. 1, my mind is fully confident and made up that I’m making the right decision and just put myself at ease.”

Three months from the surgery date would be Feb. 12. The NHL is not scheduled to play from Feb. 3-22 in a break for participation in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Vegas’ first game after the break is Feb. 25 at the Arizona Coyotes.

Eichel said he was glad to receive support after the trade from Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner, a former Sabres teammate. Lehner said Thursday he was happy Eichel will have the surgery he prefers and said, “When he’s healthy and he’s on his game, he’s up there with anyone.”

Eichel said he appreciated those words.

“That meant so much to me,” he said. “It meant a lot to my family to see Robin’s support. Obviously he’s very outspoken about his opinion and I think that’s an amazing trait to have. He doesn’t shy away from letting people know what he thinks on a situation, and for me, I think it was very helpful. I think it shined a light on things and maybe pushed the process along a little bit. I really appreciated ‘Lenny’ doing that and I let him know that.”

Eichel was traded for forwards Peyton Krebs, Alex Tuch, a top 10 protected first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. Vegas also received a third-round pick in the 2023 draft.

Eichel said he hoped his situation would lead to more players being able to have a say about choices regarding their health. 

“I want guys to have the right to make decisions that they feel are best for themselves,” he said. “I’m just trying to stand up for what I believe in. I’m just happy that we got a resolution.”

Eichel said being off the ice for so long has made him value the game even more than he did already. 

“When you lose something that you love so much, it makes you appreciate it that much more,” he said. “That’s sort of the situation here. I haven’t been able to play nearly as much hockey as I wanted and, quite frankly, I really miss playing. I miss scoring goals. I miss competing with my teammates. So I look forward to just getting back to doing what I love.”

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