Jack Eichel skated with the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday for the first time since having artificial disk replacement surgery Nov. 12, eight days after Vegas acquired him in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.
The 25-year-old center took part in Vegas’ morning skate before its home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs (10 p.m. ET; ATTSN-RM, TSN4, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).
“Nice to see him,” Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said. “At the same time, you want to temper your enthusiasm, because this is just the first step.”
Eichel wore a red no-contact jersey Tuesday.
“No contact,” DeBoer said. “That’s the only parameters that have been put on him as far as I know.”
Eichel was on the ice on his own Dec. 2 according to an Instagram post by Brandon Wong Hockey, three weeks after having a procedure that had never been done on an NHL player. The Golden Knights said that day that Eichel’s surgery was successful with no complications and he was expected to make a full recovery.
The No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Eichel has not played since March 7, 2021. He scored 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 21 games last season and 355 points (139 goals, 216 assists) in 375 games in six seasons with Buffalo, including NHL career-highs in goals (36), assists (42) and points (78) in 68 games before the 2019-20 season was paused due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
After the trade, Eichel was projected to be the center on a line with Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. Pacioretty is out indefinitely after having wrist surgery Dec. 30.
“I think we’ll be able to squeeze him in somewhere,” Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer told the “TSN Drive with Bryan Hayes and Dave Feschuk” podcast Monday. “I don’t think that will be a problem. I’ve heard his progress has been unbelievable.”
The Golden Knights (23-14-1) are first in the eight-team Pacific Division, two points ahead of the second-place Anaheim Ducks.
“Every team is going to welcome with open arms a game-changing type player like that,” DeBoer said. “I think everyone in our room understands we’re there to try and win a Stanley Cup and you need guys like that in order to win a Stanley Cup. I’m excited to see how he fits in and what he’s able to do here down the stretch for us.”
Eichel told NHL Network on Nov. 5 he thought he’d be able to return to play in three months. He was traded to Vegas for forwards Peyton Krebs and Alex Tuch, a top 10 protected first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, with the Golden Knights also receiving a third-round pick in the 2023 draft. He wanted to have the surgery since the spring after sustaining a herniated a disk in his neck last season, but the Sabres said they preferred a fusion procedure.
After the trade, the Golden Knights said Eichel would have the surgery he chose.
“For me with what he’s gone through, it’s just all about contact,” DeBoer said. “I don’t think it’s going to be about minutes. The way this guy skates, he’s one of those fluid, natural skaters that can skate all day. I don’t think it’s going to be a matter of him not being able to play 17-20 minutes a night. It’s just going to be about when he gets the green light that he can have full contact and take a hit, take a cross check and go to the front of the net and get in those battles that these players get in every night, and then everybody feels comfortable about doing it.”
NHL.com columnist Nicholas J. Cotsonika contributed to this report