24-year-old Jack Eichel has cemented himself as one of the NHL’s top centers. In 368 career games played, he has gathered an impressive 350 points. In 2018-19, he racked up 82 points in 82 games played, while in 2019-20 he finished 10th in the NHL in points with 78 (in 68 games played). He has managed to carve out his reputation as one of the NHL’s premier players, despite playing on Buffalo, where he didn’t get much help offensively before they acquired former Hart Trophy winner, Taylor Hall via free agency.
In 2018-19, Eichel had 17 more points than his next highest scoring teammate, and in 2019-20 this was up to a staggering 28 more points. However, after Buffalo missed the playoffs last season he said, “I’m fed up with the losing and I’m fed up and I’m frustrated”.
Buffalo’s losing ways have not turned around in 2020-21. In fact, the Sabres’ record of 6-9-3 ranks last in the East Division and their .417 points percentage is only better than Vancouver, Ottawa, Anaheim and Detroit.
Due to Buffalo’s woes, trade rumors surrounding Eichel have emerged. One of the teams that has the pieces necessary to make a deal is the Los Angeles Kings, who recently lost the Pierre-Luc Dubois sweepstakes. The Kings are rumored to be a potential landing spot should an Eichel trade occur.
However, it would not make sense for LA to target Eichel, due to his steep price tag.
Rumors About LA Being a Good Fit for Eichel
Rumors about a potential Eichel trade started last summer. Upon the Sabres signing Hall and trading for veteran forward Eric Staal, Eichel trade rumors were seemingly quelled; however, they’ve begun swirling around in full force as of late due to the Sabres’ struggles.
The Athletic’s John Vogl recently wrote “It’s become clear that every Sabres loss will mean more than a drop down the standings and a dent in Buffalo’s psyche. Every loss will also earn Jack Eichel a high-speed trip toward trade talk. Lopsided proposals and visions of Eichel in New York or Los Angeles have again flooded the internet.” (From ‘Jack Eichel trade talk, real or perceived, will only grow with every Sabres loss’, The Athletic, 2/18/21).
Bleacher Report’s Lyle Richardson recently suggested an Eichel to LA trade could be a good fit.
”Salary-cap space won’t be an issue for the Kings. They’ve got $56.5 million invested in 15 players for 2021-22. That’s enough room to take on Eichel’s $10 million cap hit and have enough left over to re-sign or replace their pending free agents.
The Sabres could attempt to pry away a couple of the Kings’ good young roster players, with Vilardi perhaps top of the list. Prospects such as Byfield and/or Turcotte could also be part of the asking price. They could also ask for a first-round pick, as well one or two of the Kings’ six picks in Rounds 2-4 in this year’s draft”Bleacher Report
What LA Would Have to Give Up in a Deal
Buffalo would be seeking a sky-high return for Eichel. Although not everyone agrees with NHL networks rankings, they named him the sixth-best center as of 2020, which is right around where fan consensus puts him. Winnipeg Jets’ star Mark Scheifele had even higher praise for Eichel, writing in The Players Tribune that he was his Hart Trophy pick for his play in 2019-20.
A recent blockbuster deal that could be compared to an Eichel trade was when Ottawa sent two-time Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson (who at the time was the best defenceman in the league) to LA’s rival, San Jose. In the deal, Ottawa received two roster players in Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo, two forward prospects in Josh Norris and Rudolfs Balcers, in addition to a first-round draft pick and a second-round pick.
The Kings have the best prospect pipeline in the NHL and could definitely afford to give up a few top prospects for a player of Eichel’s caliber. A potential deal could include a combination of 2019’s fifth-overall pick Alex Turcotte; sniper Arthur Kaliyev; and/or the recently acquired Tyler Madden.
Additionally, Buffalo would probably want a young roster player and a proven NHL level player. Potential candidates for a trade could include proven top-six forwards in Alex Iafallo or Andreas Athanasiou. A young roster player such as Kale Clague or Gabriel Vilardi could entice the Sabres to make a deal.
This is a lot to give up, but for a team to acquire a superstar center such as Eichel, who has yet to hit his prime; a team would need to give up lots.
How Eichel Could Help LA
LA is a team on the rise, and adding a dynamic player like Eichel would help speed up this process. The Kings are currently fifth in the West Division but have the fourth-best points percentage in the division. Prior to their loss on Feb. 26, LA was surging, winning six games in a row.
This clip highlights two of Eichel’s biggest assets; his ability to move the puck and his offensive talents.
Per CJ Turtoro’s A3Z comparison tool, Eichel is one of the NHL’s best players in transition. In 2019-20, his possession entries per 60 ranked on the 99th percentile, meaning that over every 60 minutes played, he enters the offensive zone with the puck more often than 99% of the other players in the NHL. His zone exits ranked a bit lower on the 94th percentile, but exiting the defensive zone with the puck more often than 94% of skaters is quite impressive too.
In addition to his transition play, Eichel is simply phenomenal offensively. Although he’s having trouble finding the back of the net in 2020-21, he still has 14 points in 16 games played. He currently has a measly shooting percentage (S%) of 4% this season, however, he’ll start scoring once it gets back to normal (his career S% is 10.6 and in 2019-20 he had a 15.9 S%). His career-low for goals is 24 in a season (he hit that mark in both his rookie and sophomore seasons), but he scored 36 goals in 2019-20 and should be a consistent 30-goal scorer for years to come.
Eichel’s passing is also spectacular. Over the past three seasons (2018-19 — 2020-21), he has posted 108 assists in 161 games played, which ranks 17th in the league. His points per game in that same time-frame of 1.081 ranks 15th in the league and eighth among players who have played center during those years.
Eichel is also a solid player defensively. Over the past three seasons when Eichel is skating at even-strength, the Sabres have had more shots for (SF%), scoring chances (SCF%) and goals for (GF%) than opposing teams, highlighting his ability to control the puck and generate more offense than opposing teams can, despite playing for the abysmal Sabres.
Eichel uses his body to throw punishing hits (over the past three seasons, he’s thrown 0.75 hits per game), he gets in the shooting lane and blocks shots (0.65 blocks per game in past three seasons) and has vastly improved in the face-off dot this season (this is his first season with a face-off win percentage of 50%). Eichel is already an effective two-way player and his defensive game is still budding and growing each season.
LA Should Not Pursue Him
Despite Eichel’s track record of individual success and not yet hitting his prime, the price tag to acquire him would be too steep. A package to acquire him would likely be similar to what San Jose traded for Karlsson. Looking at that trade now, it’s clear that Ottawa ended up getting the better end of the deal.
LA is a team on the rise and has been scorching hot recently. Veterans such as Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Drew Doughty are turning back the clock, while young guns such as Clague, Vilardi, Mikey Anderson, and Tobias Bjornfot are emerging as future stars. The Kings have built the best prospect pool in the league, which includes top prospects such as Turcotte and Quinton Byfield, both of whom are centers like Eichel.
LA should not mortgage that patiently built up future away to acquire Eichel, despite him being a franchise player.
I am a lifelong hockey fan who will be covering the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks here at The Hockey Writers. Before joining The Hockey Writers I spent two years blogging about hockey.
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