How well is Jack Eichel processing in his recovery from artificial disk replacement surgery? According to Vegas Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer, the forward has been the best player in practice several times in the last week.
That was an encouraging update DeBoer, who will coach the Pacific Division All-Star team this weekend, gave during NHL Media Day Friday in Las Vegas.
The other update DeBoer gave reporters was that Eichel could be ready for contact as soon as next week.
“The doctor was adamant that three months from surgery there be absolutely no contact, and I believe that’s this week,” DeBoer said via NHL.com. “So I think coming out of this break that’s going to be on the table about starting contact.”
Eichel underwent ADR surgery on November 12 and began skating with his Golden Knights teammates a little over three weeks ago while wearing a non-contact jersey. There still is no target date for his return, but the progress in his recovery could have him ready to go sooner rather than later.
“We haven’t started contact yet. I would say that’s the next step and that’s a big step,” DeBoer said. “Obviously, everything changes once we get into full contact. But from a sheer practice and skill point of view, he’s elite, elite, and every day we’re out with him the group gets more excited.”
The Golden Knights come out of the All-Star break with a back-to-back road trip to Alberta against the Oilers and Flames, then enjoy a week off before a two-game homestand against the Avalanche and Kings.
Vegas sits atop the Pacific Division with 57 points and a game in-hand on Los Angeles, who are two points behind them. Barring a complete and utter collapse, the Golden Knights will be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fifth straight season since entering the league. That also would mean the 25-year-old Eichel, who has 375 NHL games on his resume, would be playing in the postseason for the first time in his career.
Eichel’s addition to the lineup would only bolster an already strong Cup contender. Being surrounded by that amount of talent could lessen the burden to produce and allow him to find his place within the Golden Knights’ lineup.
“I think he can just come in and do his thing, he doesn’t have the pressure to carry a team,” DeBoer said. “He’s never played an NHL playoff game yet and I know that’s exciting for him. That’s a whole different level of hockey when you get to that time of the year. I’m excited for him because I think he’s going to excel in that type of game.”