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Jack Eichel, the overlooked hockey golden boy

Jack Eichel was once described at the age of 17 as “the new face of American hockey.” He is considered a member of the steadily growing crew of young talents in hockey, along with fellow 2015 draftee Connor McDavid. Now, 25 year old Jack Eichel of North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, is a center for the Vegas Golden Knights of the National Hockey League (NHL). Eichel was selected second overall in the 2015 NHL entry draft by the Buffalo Sabres. Jack Eichel spent 3 years with the Buffalo Sabres before being picked as team captain in 2018. He played a stellar 2018-19 season where he scored his 100th NHL career goal in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings. On November 16, 2019, Eichel scored four goals in a 4–2 win over the Ottawa Senators. He was the 7th Sabres player to record four goals in one game and first since Thomas Vanek did it on April 10, 2010. On January 2, 2020, Eichel became the first player in Sabres history to score a penalty kill goal in overtime, and also set a franchise record for goals scored in overtime, as the Sabres won 3–2 against the Edmonton Oilers. Yet, this career high with the Sabres was short lived when in April 2021, it was announced that Eichel would miss the remainder of the 2020–21 season to recover from surgery to repair a spinal disc herniation. Consequently, Eichel’s relationship with the Sabres failed to improve, and on September 23, 2021, Eichel was stripped of the team captaincy as a result of being placed on long-term injury reserve. 

With this hardening news for Sabres fans and a steady decline in performance for the team, a decision had to be made for where to send Jack Eichel. If you managed to stumble upon a sports news section in summer 2021, it is highly likely that you would spot an article discussing the impending Jack Eichel trade. The Jack Eichel trade was a massive one that would change the course of not only his future hockey career but would undoubtedly improve his future team’s chances. Like the famous Wayne Gretzky trade from Edmonton to Los Angeles, it was heavily scrutinized and debated. But unlike the Gretzky trade, it wasn’t due to a lack of funding on the Sabres’ part, but simply because the Sabres had no use for Eichel anymore. So, after an agonizing summer it was announced that Jack Eichel would be traded to the Vegas Golden Knights. Much to the chagrin of Sabres fans, who would now have to stay up an extra 2 hours to watch their old beloved captain play for a team across the country. The trade was met with mixed reviews, many of the positive ones coming from Golden Knights fans and fans hopeful to see Eichel make a swift return and recovery, getting back into his past hockey groove. On Jack Eichel’s first game in Buffalo following the trade, he was met with a chorus of boos from the fans. Many people seem to agree with this slander and shame and blame Eichel for his trade which was simply due to an absence due to injury, and another opportunity for Eichel to jumpstart his career. Fans booing Eichel’s return to his former home arena is nothing short of ironic and demonstrates the lack of understanding the fans have regarding his personal wellbeing and the lack of respect for Jack Eichel’s future career as an NHL player. In a sport where one injury could push you into retirement at 30, the return of Jack Eichel despite his significant injury, provides high hopes regardless of the bitter Buffalo fandom. In an interview with the Athletic regarding the reaction to his Buffalo return he said, “This is about the loudest I’ve heard this place ever, it only took seven years and me leaving for them to get into the game.” 

The Sabres fans never truly appreciated Eichel when he was captaining their team and now that he’s finally gone, they realized that they took him for granted. But the hockey world, and especially Eichel’s new home with the Golden Knights won’t take him for granted. 

In Jack Eichel’s blossoming return with the Golden Knights there should be nothing but hope for the once underappreciated captain. His post-trade return to hockey might not have felt the warmest, but there is no doubt that Jack Eichel in all his curly glory will shine in his new armor.

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