LAS VEGAS – Jack Eichel will make his debut with the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday, playing for the first time since being acquired from Buffalo and since he became the first NHL player to undergo artificial disk replacement surgery on his neck in November.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of emotions Wednesday,” Eichel said Monday at the team’s facility after practice. “I already started feeling them. It’s been a long time. (It’s) been the biggest layoff I’ve ever had since I started playing hockey, so I’m trying to be realistic with myself and my expectations.”
Eichel was acquired on Nov. 4 in a trade with Buffalo for a package including forwards Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs. Then he had surgery on Nov. 12 and began practicing with the Golden Knights on Jan. 11.
The 25-year-old was cleared for full contact last week and will return in time to face the league’s hottest team, the Colorado Avalanche.
“At the end of the day, it’s hockey,” Eichel said. “I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, so I’ll just try to find my game, get as comfortable as I can as quickly as possible and I think I’ll be all right.”
Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon and coach Peter DeBoer, both were elated that the team’s prize acquisition will debut. But they also had bad news for Vegas on Monday, announcing captain Mark Stone was placed on long-term injured reserve because of a lingering back injury.
“Our No. 1 priority is Mark Stone’s health,” McCrimmon said. “It’s clearly not in a place where it needs to be for him to be successful. It’s not in a place it needs to be for our team. He will be missed but I genuinely believe we are doing the right thing with him.”
The move allows Vegas to make room on its roster under the NHL salary cap.
Without Stone, DeBoer said it gives him an extended opportunity to do what he’s done all season, and that’s experiment with his lines by using a plethora of offensive weapons that now includes Eichel.
“We’re gonna look at some different combinations, and some different things,” DeBoer said. “I think what Jack allows us to do is really gives us some center depth that can potentially create some mismatches. ... I don’t know what will stick but we’re gonna try some things.”
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