The long drama has come to an end. Jack Eichel has been traded.
And he’s going to the Vegas Golden Knights.
The superstar center has been acquired from the Buffalo Sabres, along with a future draft pick, to Vegas in exchange for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a first-round pick in 2022, and a third-round pick in 2023.
Eichel, who carries a $10 million cap hit for the next five seasons, will not have his salary retained by the Sabres.
Eichel, who just turned 25 years old on Oct. 28, was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft by Buffalo going one pick ahead of Connor McDavid. The center has 355 points in 375 NHL games and, when healthy, is one of the top centers in the world.
“We are getting a player that I think is one of the top players in the league, one of the top centers in the league,” said Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon. “He’s in the prime of his career as a player who’s just turned 25 years old. It addresses a need in our organization.”
The key is “when healthy.” Eichel is currently awaiting neck surgery that has been in the cards since March, when he played only 21 games in the condensed NHL season. Eichel and his representatives had hoped for an artificial disc replacement surgery, something that has never been done on an NHL player and that the Sabres were opposed to.
McCrimmon confirmed that Eichel will have the surgery and is set to have it soon. What happens after that is entirely an unknown.
“It’s really challenging to give you a time frame because it’s never been done in the sport,” he said. “I’m told that Jack has been able to be quite active in terms of training while he’s injured, even being on the ice. It’s the contact that he would not be cleared to endure. I keep thinking four to five months, three to four months.”
Eichel, who had been Buffalo’s captain since 2018, was stripped of the leadership position before the season began after being placed on injured reserve.
The recovery timeline for the surgery is expected to be four months, which might not be in time for Eichel to participate for Team USA in the Olympics if there was a last-minute hope for that.
But should things go according to plan, Eichel could join the Golden Knights for a second-half push and will become the team’s true No. 1 center on a line with Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone.
Tuch is recovering from shoulder surgery and was expected to be out until February or March. The forward was acquired in an expansion draft-day trade with the Minnesota Wild for the Golden Knights to select Erik Haula. In four seasons with Vegas, Tuch had 139 points in 249 NHL games.
Krebs, the Golden Knights’ first-round pick in 2019, is another name in a long list of top-end prospects Vegas has moved to add a star player. Krebs was the Player of the Year in the Western Hockey League last season and made his NHL debut May 3 at Minnesota and recorded an assist in his first game. His debut was short-lived after fracturing his jaw five days later. In five games this season, Krebs does not have a point.
“I think you can’t look short term when you have an opportunity to get a difference-maker. This guy is 25 years old,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Those guys are never available. The opportunity to get a guy like this is very rare.”