Jack Eichel back among NHL's elite as Vegas prepares for showdown vs. Bruins

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Eichel back among NHL's elite as Vegas prepares for showdown vs. Bruins originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Much of the attention surrounding the Vegas Golden Knights' trip to Boston on Monday to play the Bruins involves the return of Bruce Cassidy.

The Golden Knights head coach, who was fired by the Bruins in May after six-plus seasons with the Original Six club, has his new team flying high.

Vegas enters Friday with the Western Conference's best record (17-7-1), highlighted by a sparkling 10-2-1 mark on the road.

Hall's resurgence on third line gives Bruins championship-level depth

While there's no question Cassidy has done a great job in rejuvenating the Golden Knights franchise, a strong case can be made that the primary reason for the team's success so far has been the superstar-level play of Jack Eichel.

Eichel is a popular figure in this area.

The North Chelmsford, Mass., native starred at Boston University and was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres. He's battled plenty of adversity over the last two years. Neck issues, which eventually led to surgery, resulted in Eichel playing only 21 games in the 2020-21 campaign and only 34 for the Golden Knights last season after the Sabres traded him to Vegas in November of 2021.

Now healthy, Eichel is playing the best hockey of his career. The 26-year-old center leads Vegas with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 25 games.

"He’s one of the most talented players in the world. I think that’s probably first and foremost where the results are coming from," Golden Knights team insider Gary Lawless told NBC Sports Boston this week.

"He’s healthy and he had a full summer to train. He didn’t have that last year. Last year he broke his thumb. He had his neck surgery, came back and broke his thumb, and played with that for six weeks. So that affected his play on the ice as well. Jack has been fantastic. He’s a huge part of the team."

One of Eichel's most impressive performances of the season came on Nov. 10 against the Sabres in Buffalo. He torched his old team with four points in a 7-4 victory.

"If you watched the reaction of the team when he had his big night in Buffalo this year, when he got the first assist, the players mobbed him right away and it kept snowballing," Lawless said. "He finished with four points, three goals and one assist, and the team was so happy for him.

"And Jack’s comment on that was that it was not the fact that they beat the Sabres, not the fact he had a hat trick, but the way his teammates supported him and surrounded him. He said it was one of the most special nights he’s ever had in hockey."

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A lot of Bruins fans had dreamed of Cassidy coaching Eichel in Boston. That will happen Monday night, but they won't be doing it as members of the Bruins organization.

Instead, this duo will try to beat the Bruins at the Garden, something no team has done for 20 consecutive games dating back to April 16 of last season.

That said, slowing down this Vegas team will be a very tough challenge for Boston.

I think he’s just scratching the surface. I think he’s got another level or two to get to.

Gary Lawless on Jack Eichel's potential

The Golden Knights are a formidable group up front. They roll four lines deep and rank fifth in 5-on-5 scoring with 57 goals. Vegas' top line of Eichel, left wing Chandler Stephenson and right wing Mark Stone is an absolute handful.

The Golden Knights have outscored opponents 18-6 with a plus-16 edge in scoring chances and a plus-24 advantage in high-danger chances during the 235:49 of 5-on-5 ice time this trio has played together, per Natural Stat Trick.

"He’s fun to watch and he has a real drive to win," Lawless said of Eichel. "Everyone is happy for Jack’s success, and I think he’s just scratching the surface. I think he’s got another level or two to get to, and playing with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone, that’s one of the best lines in the NHL right now and they’re really feeding off one another."

Eichel looks like a man on a mission. After struggling through injuries and plenty of criticism over the last two years, Eichel is reminding everyone why he's one of the best players in the sport.

The Golden Knights have made a few deep playoff runs in their first six seasons as an NHL franchise, including a 2018 Stanley Cup Final appearance and two other conference final trips. They needed a true No. 1 center to get over the hump, and with Eichel in the fold, this Vegas team appears to have the necessary ingredients to be playing deep into June again.