Jack Eichel has officially been a Vegas Golden Knight for a year. It was on this day in 2021 that the Golden Knights acquired Eichel and a conditional 2023 third-round pick in a blockbuster deal for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a 2022 first-round draft pick that became Noah Östlund and a 2023 second-rounder.
Even with the benefit of a year of hindsight, the trade isn’t much easier to evaluate. Rare is the deal that can be graded with any finality 365 days later, but the Eichel swap has been particularly complex in that regard. It was never really going to be a simple transaction – not when a significant package of future assets was surrendered for a star-caliber player with severe neck issues undergoing an unprecedented surgery. Somehow, though, the aftermath has been even more layered than expected.
Last season, Buffalo held an early and commanding lead following the trade. Eichel didn’t debut until Feb. 16, 2022, and couldn’t help stop an injury-marred free-fall in Vegas that saw the franchise miss the playoffs for the first time. The Sabres didn’t make the postseason either, but Tuch and Krebs offered promising signs for the future. It certainly didn’t hurt that both players scored in Eichel’s contentious return to Buffalo, while the team’s former captain could only muster some petty parting shots after a 3-1 loss.
This season, however, things have turned around a bit on the Golden Knights’ end. Their big acquisition from a year ago has returned to the pre-injury form they had hoped he’d rediscover, leading them to an 10-2 record as the team’s leading scorer. The risky move seems to have landed Vegas exactly what they wanted: a bona fide No. 1 center and possible superstar who, at 26, is just entering his prime years.
On the one-year anniversary of the trade, let’s dive a little deeper into where each team stands after what was arguably the biggest in-season trade in recent memory:
Golden Knights Get: Eichel & a Conditional 2023 Third-Rounder
Vegas had always been mentioned as a possible trade destination for the disgruntled Eichel. While the club was already up against the salary cap with lots of long-term money on the books, the big-game hunting tendencies of owner Bill Foley and general manager Kelly McCrimmon could never be discounted. Sure enough, the Golden Knights’ front office pulled it off, even if they leaned heavily into long-term injured reserve-created cap space to do so.
Latest News & Highlights
Despite landing a big-name talent, the trade wasn’t an easy sell for the fan base. Losing Tuch meant the departure of yet another popular Vegas original, while Krebs represented the sacrifice of more young talent for an established veteran. Furthermore, Eichel’s $10.5 million annual cap figure was going to pose a daunting long-term challenge. There was an awfully significant downside to the deal, and that’s before factoring in the acquisition of a player who a) wouldn’t be ready to play for three-plus months and b) carried no guarantees of returning to his same level of play.
When he did ultimately hit the ice, Eichel was perfectly solid, even if he didn’t blow anyone away. He could hardly be blamed for the team’s slide, even if his on-ice arrival did coincide with a 4-9-1 rough patch. The Massachusetts native ultimately produced 14 goals and 25 points in 34 games, a slight dip from his usual numbers that could be easily justified given his near year-long absence.
You Might Also Like
- Despite Improvements, Golden Knights Still Have 2 Things to Fix
- Sabres’ “Kid Line” is Ready to Break Out
- NHL Rumors: Stars, Canadiens, Sabres, Golden Knights, Flyers
- Sabres’ Interest in Chychrun Could Be Risky
- Golden Knights’ Depth Shines Bright in Win vs. Blue Jackets
This season, the old Eichel seems to have returned, with no caveats or qualifiers needed. His team-leading scoring totals have been driven by creative playmaking, elite vision and a high hockey IQ. Amidst the neck problems and messy exit from Buffalo, it’s easy to forget that the 2015 second-overall pick (selected behind Connor McDavid) has the ability to be one of the league’s top centers. It’s tough to argue with the results of a trade that landed the Golden Knights what is now the best player on one of the best teams across the NHL.
Sabres Get: Tuch, Krebs, a 2022 First-Rounder (Östlund) & a 2023 Second-Rounder
Buffalo’s end of the trade was tied significantly to future production, so it will still be some time yet before fans can get a proper read on their return, particularly Krebs, Östlund and whoever they select with next summer’s second-round pick. However, one could argue that the deal has already been addition by subtraction for the Sabres, who got rid of a major headache by ending the Eichel saga.
Oh, and they got some pretty good players back, too. Tuch (12 goals, 38 points) out-produced Eichel on his own, albeit while playing 16 more games. Significantly, he remains signed long-term to a reasonable contract (his deal carries an average annual value of $4.75 million for three more years) and seems happy in Buffalo. The 26-year-old has been hot out of the gate again this season, recording seven goals and 10 points in 10 games. It’s fair to wonder if you’d rather have Tuch at $4.75 million or Eichel at $10.5 million.
Krebs, meanwhile, has received praise from Sabres head coach Don Granato for his versatility in shifting between his natural center position and the left-wing spot, an experiment that began last season. While the production hasn’t quite been there yet for the 21-year-old, he seems to have earned a full-time NHL role after bouncing back and forth from the American Hockey League (AHL) last year.
Östlund, a Swedish center prospect, won’t even turn 19 until March, but is holding his own in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). He currently stands as the assist leader on a Djurgårdens IF club that features the likes of long-time NHLer Marcus Kruger. As was highlighted in his draft profile, Östlund boasts elite speed and exceptional playmaking skills, meaning that he’s a player for Sabres fans to keep their eye on.
Suffice to say, both organizations seem to be pretty happy with their haul at the moment. Regardless of what level Eichel can ultimately reach, the situation in Buffalo was untenable and a change of scenery was needed. In that sense, recouping a productive forward on a good contract, two promising prospects at varying stages of development and another pick still to come can only be seen as a great result for general manager Kevyn Adams and the Sabres. And yet, the Golden Knights won’t regret any part of that return if Eichel continues to anchor what has been a dominant Vegas team to date.
I may be a Leafs fan at heart (I’ve witnessed their highs and lows first-hand as a Scotiabank Arena employee), but I’m also a veteran freelance sportswriter who loves a good story. And there’s been no better story in hockey over the past few years than the Vegas Golden Knights. I’m excited to be covering the NHL again on the Golden Knights’ beat.