Jack Eichel is ready for his “awkward” Buffalo Sabers reunion but hopes for a warm welcome

Jack Eichel knows his return to Buffalo will be “embarrassing” and says he doesn’t know how Sabers fans will react – although he hopes they’ll focus on some positives.

“I think about the time I had in Buffalo, it obviously ended up being a bit of a mess,” Eshel, the former Cypress captain, told ESPN before his first game in Buffalo (7 p.m. ET Thursday, ESPN+). In November. “but I wish [fans] We could look beyond some of the things that might have happened in the last year and think about the last five or six years I’ve been there and all that I’ve tried to do for the community, all I feel is like putting it on ice as a hockey player, and I know I just tried to do every What I can for the city.”

Eichel, 25, was the second pick overall by the Sabers in 2015 and was in the middle of an eight-year $80 million contract – the largest in the team’s history – when he got into a dispute with management over how to deal with a herniated disc in his neck. Sabers doctors wanted Eichel to undergo fusion surgery, while he wanted to follow a second opinion doctor and get artificial disc replacement surgery – which had never been done on an NHL player before. Under the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, teams have the final say on how injuries are treated.

Sabers stripped Eichel of his collar and facilitated trade to the Golden Knights, who allowed the center to undergo a prosthetic disc replacement in November.

Eshel said he was sitting in his driveway when Kevin Adams, general manager of Sabers, called and told him the news about his driver.

“I was frustrated,” Eshel said. “If you think about why you took the captain away from me, it was because I didn’t agree with you medically. Then you basically told me not to show up for training camp. At that point, I felt like they were playing with me. So I was just, I got over it beautifully.”

Eshel said his lowest point came in October and November as he started the NHL season without him. He stayed at his home in Boston while he waited to trade.

“I tried to be patient and optimistic and [think] Something will happen, I will find some positive news at some point. “Then I just started getting to the point where I was in no-man’s-land,” Eshel said. I wasn’t really doing much. I was trying to stay in the gym, trying to stay on the ice. I was just trying to stay motivated, to be honest with you, but it got to the point where I had no clear path and no real goal at the time.

“And I knew that, no matter what, I still needed surgery and I still needed three months of rehab. So it was going to be a long time before I played. … as well as watching the players come back and being out on the ice. “That’s what I wanted to do. I felt I could have been there easily if the process had gone differently maybe earlier in the summer or last spring.”

Eichel was skating a month after his surgery and made his Golden Knights debut in February. If he had undergone the merger, he would have been sidelined for at least six months.

Three weeks after Eshel underwent surgery, Chicago Blackhawks center Tyler Johnson became the second player in league history to receive an ADR on his neck. Eichel and Johnson share an agent, and because Eichel did a lot of homework throughout the process, he explained Johnson a lot of the details on the phone.

“I would say maybe I’m an example of someone who opposed what their team thought was best for them and stood up for what they wanted,” Eshel said. “I mean there was a baseball player who was the first person to get a Tommy John. So I hope it opens a new door for players to deal with the injury.”

Eshel said he doesn’t feel “100 percent yet” but it does get there. The center has three goals and four assists in 10 games with the Golden Knights, including his first signing moment – scoring 5.2 seconds ago in a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.

“hopefull [fans] We could look beyond some of the things that might have happened in the last year and think about the previous five and a half years, the six years I’ve been there and all that I’ve tried to do for the community, all I feel like I’ve been putting on the ice as a hockey player, and I know I just tried To do everything I can for the city.”

Jack Eichel, in his first Buffalo match since leaving the Sabers

Eichel achieved individual success at Buffalo – scoring 139 goals and 355 points in 375 games – although the team continued to struggle. The Sabers sank into their longest post-season drought in the NHL, and Eichel had four coaches and three general managers at Buffalo.

“The constant filtering of coaches and coaches has worn me out and I’m sure you’ve worn out a lot of guys,” Eshel said. “It’s not easy. You might feel pressured there and pressure to succeed. And when you’re not able to do that, it definitely takes a toll on you.”

Eshel said he is looking forward to potentially playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time this spring.

Eshel said of the Golden Knights: “They don’t put the handicap in the play-offs. They don’t put the handicap on winning the degree.” “They put the bar to win the Stanley Cup, and everything that has been done here from the medical staff to the equipment guys – everyone is on the same page and they know that’s the goal at the end of the year. They do everything to give you the best chance to win, perform and worry about playing hockey. And you can’t. Ask anything else.”

Eshel said that if the saber allowed him to have any surgery he wanted, he would still be unsure where he would play now.

“I think things in Buffalo have changed quite a bit over the last year,” Eshel said. “And so I can’t really say if I’m going to be there or not. It definitely got to the point where it seemed like they were pushing a lot of guys out, and I think there were only one or two guys that were still there at first. They’ve been a huge hit and there’s a lot A really good player with a lot of great pieces in their establishment, so who knows where I’ll be.

“Maybe it would have been nice if I had the surgery a little bit sooner and then I could have had a full boot camp, I’d be playing all season and maybe I’d be in a little bit better now, but it all happens for a reason. And I couldn’t be happier where I am. .”

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