Jack Eichel is enjoying a nice start to the season with the Vegas Golden Knights in which he’s played like a Hart Trophy candidate. The Golden Knights’ No. 1 center has already bested the 25 points he put up in his first 34 games in Vegas last season, and as of this writing he’s averaging over a point per game with a line of 13-16-29 in 26 games.
These numbers are far below the offensive output we’ve seen from players such as Connor McDavid (22 goals and 48 points in 26 games), Leon Draisaitl (25 assists and 42 points in 26 games), and Jason Robertson (23 goals and 41 points in 25 games) just to name a few, but that shouldn’t take away from how valuable Eichel’s been to start the season.
While those names are at the front of the pack in raw point totals, Eichel is currently leading the league in Evolving-Hockey’s GAR (goals above replacement) metric.
Eichel has been worth 11.3 GAR, a number that includes an offensive GAR of 6.4, a defensive GAR of 3.1, and a penalty differential GAR of 1.9. For context, Draisaitl currently sits 8th with a GAR of 8.3, Robertson 13th with a GAR of 7.7, and McDavid is 20th with a GAR of 7.2.
Evolving-Hockey also have an xGAR (expected goals above replacement) metric, and it is here where we see some of the above names higher up.
This go around McDavid is 1st with an xGAR of 15.3, Robertson is 2nd with an xGAR of 15.1, and Draisaitl is 9th with an xGAR of 10.6. Eichel comes in just ahead in 8th place with an xGAR of 11 on the nose.
This is just one way of looking at things, but I fully expect to see these names as part of the conversation at the end of the season when voters are pondering who to cast their ballots for, and if Eichel is able to go on a run offensively he’ll start garnering more consideration. Right now his main competition for that tertiary spot is probably defensemen having strong years like Adam Fox and Erik Karlsson, and Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders who has been very valuable in net.
For what it is worth, in Dom Luszczyszyn’s most recent NHL Award watch Eichel was 4th on his list, so there is some national attention being paid to what Jack has done thus far.
NHL Awards Watch— dom ️ (@domluszczyszyn) December 1, 2022
Jason Robertson leads a stacked MVP race, Adam Fox looks like the league's best all-around defenseman, and Ilya Sorokin is the early Vezina frontrunner.https://t.co/tFK590IMnf pic.twitter.com/8kNB0KA1lF
For now, though, let us take a look at what Eichel has been doing really well as the Golden Knights’ best player to date. Eichel has an xGF% of 62.76, which is currently 15th best in the league among forwards. If you were to up the minutes threshold to players who have logged at least 300 minutes to focus on those who are getting top minutes and haven’t been all that sheltered, Eichel comes in 5th behind Matthew Tkachuk (FLA), Jesper Bratt (NJD), Jack Hughes (NJD), and old friend Tomas Tatar (NJD).
He’s also sporting a GF% of 70.81 which is 19th in the NHL among forwards who have played at least 100 minutes. If you once again filter to forwards who have logged at least 300 minutes, Eichel is 3rd behind Rickard Rakell (PIT), and Tatar once again.
Eichel’s been adept at moving the puck up the ice for Vegas, and here’s an example of his work from a recent game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
No points for Jack Eichel last night but he was buzzing.— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) November 29, 2022
13 Controlled Zone Entries - most he's had in a game. Only four players with more in a game this season. One of the best puck movers in the game and dangerous last night. @GoldenKnights pic.twitter.com/CRjxmXRXin
What’s been special about Eichel’s start is that he isn’t just generating a lot of offense and chances, he’s also been preventing it by limiting the opposition on defense. Some of that could be a benefit of playing with Mark Stone, another forward enjoying a return to form, but Eichel deserves some credit too.
Thus far Eichel’s has a goals against per 60 of 1.63, 3 basis points behind Stone, which is outperforming his expected goals against per 60 of 1.99. To better depict his overall impact so far, here are some charts.
This chart from Micah Blake McCurdy at Hockey Viz, really give some perspective on the defensive contributions he’s making thus far. Thus far he’s having the strongest defensive impact of his career, with the opposition generating 10.3% fewer expected goals against while he’s on the ice.
This chart is similar to the one that precedes it, with this being a focus of just this season. Once again it showcases Eichel have a strong isolated impact defensively while also making positive offensive contributions.
This one from Evolving-Hockey highlights how Eichel is performing admirably in context (both offensively and defensively) to the rest of the league, and it shows a good amount of his value coming at even strength where most of the game is played.
All in all, Eichel’s been exactly what the Golden Knights have wanted him to be. He’s an elite No. 1 center that generates offense, creates excitement, and has been valuable in his own end of the rink. He’s been a great fit for new bench boss Bruce Cassidy, and a big reason why Vegas sits with a record of 19-7-1 with 39 points as the best team in the Western Conference and 3rd overall in the NHL.
Ultimately the goal for the Golden Knights is getting back to the playoffs and contending for a Stanley Cup. That said, if Eichel can continue to make the contributions he has thus far to date, not only will Vegas have a chance to go far in the postseason he certainly will have the opportunity to make voters think about him when casting ballots for league MVP.
Stats via Evolving-Hockey and Hockey Viz unless otherwise noted.