Jack Eichel returns to Buffalo with “no bitterness” but detailed his frustrations to ESPN

jack eichel returns to buffalo
Mar 1, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel (9) is pictured during a second period faceoff against the San Jose Sharks at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Jack Eichel will be making his first trip to Buffalo after the trade to the Vegas Golden Knights to play the Sabres. On Thursday night, fans will let it be known, one way or another, just what they think of what transpired.

A “Thank You Eichel” video is reportedly planned, which will likely be met with a mix of cheers and boos.

“You think about what sort of reception you’re going to get, but I can’t control that,” Eichel said. “Whatever the reception is, I’ll be able to handle it… I gave everything I had while I was here in Buffalo… I’m at peace with that.”

Jack Eichel returns to Buffalo

jack eichel
Mar 6, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel (9) touches gloves with Vegas Golden Knights mascot “Chance” after being named first star of a game against the Ottawa Senators at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Eichel was the No. 2 pick of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo right after two-time Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid was selected by Edmonton. The 25-year-old center scored 139 goals, 216 assists and 355 points and also set a franchise record with eight overtime goals in six seasons with the Sabres.

But Eichel, who finished eighth in the Hart voting in 2020 after scoring 36 goals to go with 42 assists in 68 games, had a falling out with Buffalo management after suffering a spinal disk herniation last March in a game against the New York Islanders. Eichel wanted to become the first player in NHL history to undergo disk replacement surgery while the team, which had final say under the league’s collective bargaining agreement, argued for fusion surgery.

Eichel was eventually stripped of his captaincy and traded to Vegas on Nov. 4 for forwards Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs and a first- and second-round draft pick. He underwent disk replacement surgery on Nov. 12 and made his Golden Knights debut in a 2-0 loss to Colorado on Feb. 16. He has scored three goals, including a game winner with 5.2 seconds left on Sunday against Ottawa, and dished out four assists in 10 games with Vegas.

“I was frustrated,” Eichel told ESPN. “If you think about the reason why you took the captaincy away from me, it was because I didn’t agree with you medically. Then you basically told me not to come around for training camp. At that point, it just felt like they were toying with me. So I was just, I was pretty over it.”

“He looks like himself,” said Buffalo coach Don Granato, who added there would be no extra emotion from his team surrounding Eichel’s return. “He looks like he’s getting back to normal.”

Eichel not bitter

Eichel told reporters after Wednesday’s practice that he had no hard feelings against the Sabres for the way things ended.

“There is no bitterness. None,” he said. ” … They stuck by their doctors’ opinions and I respect that. I hope people can respect my decision to do the same.”

The game is a big one for a Vegas team that was an overwhelming favorite to win the Pacific Division and contend for its first Stanley Cup.

The Golden Knights are clinging to third place and a Western Conference playoff spot with 68 points and have struggled to score goals. Vegas is averaging just 2.09 goals per game over its past 11 games (4-6-1) while getting shut out two times, scoring one goal twice and two goals in three contests.

There’s plenty of focus on Eichel’s return by fans and the media, but for the two teams it will be all about getting two points.

–Field Level Media contributed to this report