There might be a new face in the Golden Knights’ practices soon.
Injured striker Jack Eichel is expected to arrive in Las Vegas this week, a person familiar with the matter reported Monday.
Eichel has removed two months from undergoing artificial disc replacement surgery in his neck and has been rehabbing in Charlotte, North Carolina since the operation.
“We will pick a date in January when our staff will meet with Jack, his coach and surgeon, and coordinate a smooth transition of rehabilitation from the group he was with to our staff,” General Manager Kelly McCrimmon said last month. “When we get to that point, then he will be part of our group every day and he will be back in the team on a full-time basis. Then when he is allowed to play and come back healthy, then he will come back.”
Eichel suffered a herniated disc in his neck while playing for the Buffalo Sabers last season and had surgery on November 12 in Denver. He was originally given a three to five month schedule for his return.
Video of Eichel skating in Golden Knights gear surfaced at the beginning of December, less than three weeks after he became the first NHL player to undergo the ADR process.
He was cleared of most physical activity, but McCrimmon warned last month in an interview with the Review-Journal that determining when Eichel is ready to call will be the most difficult and potentially time-consuming decision.
Eichel, 25, was acquired in a November 4 trade with the Buffalo Sabers in exchange for forwards Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs and two draft picks. He has not played since injuring his neck on March 7 against the New York Islanders and remains on extended injured reserve.
The Knights prepare for a five-day break after Tuesday’s game against Toronto at T-Mobile Arena. Trips to Edmonton and Calgary originally scheduled for Friday and Saturday have been postponed, but it is not clear if Eichel will be training during that time.
Once Eichel is back up to full strength, the Knights must decide how to fit his $10 million salary cap onto the roster. Wenger Riley Smith, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $5 million cap, is an obvious candidate to be transferred.
But another solution the Knights are said to be betting on is acquiring long-term IR players and using those contracts to gain additional salary cap flexibility once Eichel is activated.
Tampa Bay is one of the teams that has effectively circumvented cap in this way and is using the $6.875 million cap that retired defenseman Brent Seabrook hit for the purpose this season.
One of the contracts the Knights could sign was Anaheim’s Ryan Kessler ($6.875 million), as reported by The 4th Period. Kessler has not played since 2019 due to groin injuries. His deal expires after this season.
Other long-term IR contracts that the fourth period has indicated could be beneficial to Buffalo Knights defenseman Johnny Boychuk ($6 million), retired Dallas goaltender Ben Bishop ($4.916 million) and Chicago’s Andrew Shaw ($3.9 million).
The Knights have defenseman Alec Martinez ($5.25 million) on injured reserve for the time being, and left winger Max Pacioretty ($7 million) being sidelined indefinitely after undergoing surgery on his wrist.
But based on schedules provided by head coach Pete DeBoer, both players are expected to return sometime during the regular season and won’t be stashed on injured reserve until the playoffs when the salary cap is no longer in effect.
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