In this edition of Vegas Golden Knights News & Rumors, Jack Eichel is reportedly still expected to be sidelined for a good period of time. Meanwhile, the player currently holding down his number one center role in Chandler Stephenson has been getting rave reviews from his head coach Pete DeBoer as of late. Speaking of DeBoer, he recently spoke with media on how difficult his teams upcoming four game road trip is going to be. Last but not least, several players in Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault and Brayden McNabb were held out of practice on Wednesday, but thankfully it doesn’t appear to be due to any reason other than maintenance days.
Eichel Not Expected Back Soon
Since having his neck surgery back in mid-November, there have been many conflicting reports about when Eichel may be ready to make his Golden Knights debut. The 25-year-old stated prior to his procedure that he would be looking at roughly a three-month recovery, and given the fact that he was recently started skating with teammates again seems to line up with that assessment.
On Friday, owner Bill Foley suggested on the SinBin.vegas podcast that Eichel was just weeks away from a return, something that sparked a ton of excitement amongst the fanbase. That may have been premature however, as DeBoer made it sound like he won’t be back in the near future.
“I don’t know what the timeframe will be,” DeBoer said on Wednesday. “It’ll be at least a month or two months before he plays.”
Eichel has not played since Mar. 7 of 2020 due to a neck injury which resulted in his surgery this past November. While his operation was viewed as risky by some, it appears to have went well, and at this point there is nothing to suggest he won’t be as good of a player, if not even better, than he was prior.
DeBoer Has High Praise for Stephenson
Prior to trading for Eichel, the one knock on this Golden Knights roster heading into 2021-22 was that they were weak down the middle. It appears Stephenson, who is in his third season with the club, took that to heart, as his play has been up to the standards of what you would expect from a first line centerman, with 37 points in 39 games. DeBoer recently spoke about just how good of a player he is in the NHL.
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“I think Chandler’s answered those questions about linemates this year because he’s played with everybody,” DeBoer said. “Mark Stone has missed significant time. Max Pacioretty has missed significant time. Those were his traditional linemates. He’s answered those questions from Day 1 of this year with his production and what he’s done with everybody. His greatest asset is his speed. He has put-you-on-your-heels type of acceleration and speed. He’s got a good competitiveness to him. He also came into the league as a fourth-line player and won a Stanley Cup in Washington, which gives you that foundation of the fourth-line workman-like identity. When you combine that with elite speed and skill, you’ve got a real good hockey player.”
As DeBoer mentioned, Stephenson was primarily a fourth-line player during his three seasons with the Capitals, which is a big part of the reason why he is now such an underrated player. At 27-years-old, he is beginning to truly come into the prime of his career, and should continue to be a big part of this Golden Knights team moving forward.
Tough Road Trip Ahead
While they have a home game against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday to worry about first, the Golden Knights have an extremely difficult road trip up ahead. In their four games next week, they face off against four of the NHL’s top teams in the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I don’t think anyone looks forward to the gauntlet of games on our schedule,” DeBoer admitted. “You’d have to be insane to be excited to go into those buildings.”
Those four teams are currently 6th or better in league standings, indicating just how difficult of a road trip it will be for the Golden Knights. However, heading into the 2021-22 season, this roster was viewed by many as a Stanley Cup contender. These games should be a great measuring stick to see how they stack up against some of the league’s best.
Wednesday Maintenance Days
Given the tough go the Golden Knights have had injury wise this season, many fans would be quite nervous to hear that Stone, McNabb and Marchessault all missed practice on Wednesday. Thankfully, DeBoer told media after the practice that all three were absent due to maintenance days, and none are dealing with anything serious.
Even with those three healthy, the Golden Knights have a ton of players unavailable right now. As mentioned earlier, Eichel remains sidelined, as does Alec Martinez, Max Pacioretty, Nicolas Hague, and goaltender Laurent Brossoit. If there is a positive to make out of this, it could be that perhaps this team is getting their bad injury luck out of the way now rather than in the playoffs.
Up Next for the Golden Knights
As mentioned, the Golden Knights face off against the Canadiens on Thursday, and are then off until their Monday night tilt against the Capitals. The four games next week won’t be easy, but are crucial in order to stay atop the Pacific Division, as both the L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks sit just three points back.