The center debuted in Vegas on Wednesday night, in the Golden Knights’ 2-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. It was Eichel’s first NHL game in nearly a year, after surgery on a herniated disc in his neck last November.
Minus One finished with one shot on goal and 8 for 11 on the standoff during 17:32 ice time, while also taking two minor penalties.
There were plenty of fests for Eichel’s first effort though. The atmosphere surrounding the host team’s newest star was palpable, and Eichel was tapped to take the game’s opening showdown as the top streak center for the Golden Knights, against the top NHL team in Colorado no less.
The defeat marked Vegas’ second consecutive loss to shutdown, as Avalanche goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper stole the show with a 29-time save performance.
Despite the outcome, Eshel still felt the love on his first momentous outing.
“There was a lot of energy in the building, and I thought I fed from that and played really well in the first period,” he said. “You don’t want to take two penalties and be on the ice for it [a goal]But there are some things that can be built upon. It’s a really good team, and you’ll be up against a good streak for part of the game. First match in 11 months, it’s good to go back to what I did [you’re doing]. ”
The 25-year-old has not been available to play since March 7, 2021, when he was still with the Buffalo Sabers and injured his neck during a collision on the ice.
Given the lengthy dismissal, Eshel was not surprised that a bit of rust appeared in his game. It just didn’t diminish the enjoyment of being there.
“Honestly, I was enjoying my time there,” he said. “I think there are a few things to build on, but it’s practical. I know it’s going to get better. I wasn’t expecting it to be perfect tonight. There’s a lot to work on, and good things to build on too.”
Vegas coach Peter DeBoyer agreed, acknowledging that the team only saw a fraction of what Eichel would eventually be able to fully deliver.
“I thought he worked hard,” Debore said. “[After] 11 months, jump mid-season against a team [NHL’s] The best team, it’s a big request. I thought he did a good job. We’ve seen flashes of what he can do for us. He did some good plays for some people, and he did a lot of good things. It’s a great first step.”
Just getting to the point of competitive play again was a long way to go for Eichel. At the time of his injury, Eshel was captain of the Buffalo team, and was the team’s second overall pick in 2015 in the middle of an eight-year contract that he signed for $80 million in 2018.
The disc issue will eventually cause a rift between Eichel and the Sabers, changing the course of their relationship forever. In April 2021, Buffalo announced that Eshel would miss the rest of the season due to his injury, which they wanted to treat with rest and rehabilitation.
In May, Eshel came forward to express his dissatisfaction with the treatment plan. The 25-year-old wanted to undergo surgery to fix the problem, but the disc replacement procedure Eichel was asking for was never performed on the NHL player. The Saber was refusing to give him the green light.
“I’ve been a little upset about the way things have been handled since I got hurt,” Eshel told reporters last May. “I would be lying to say that things have gone smoothly since my injury. I think there was a bit of a disconnect from the organization and myself. It was difficult at times.”
Eshel went on to admit that, “I have a lot of thinking to do in this off season. There is a lot to think about… now for me, I think the most important thing is just trying to get health and wellness out of the way to be available to play hockey next year. wherever that is.”
By September, Eichel and the Sabers were far apart, and Buffalo stripped Eichel of his captaincy when he physically failed a boot camp.
General Manager Kevin Adams has not ruled out trading Eichel, given the appropriate circumstances. These were achieved on November 4, when Eichel was traded in Vegas for Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs, in the first and second rounds.
A week later, Eichel finally had disc replacement surgery at the Rocky Mountain Spine Clinic in Denver and has been rehabilitating him ever since. His return on Wednesday was the product of many long, unsettling days and nights and the questioning of what the future might hold, and how it would feel to get there.
Eshel and the Golden Knights will return on Friday against Los Angeles.