LAS VEGAS (FOX5) — The Golden Knights returned to City National Arena Monday morning, following the five-day All-Star break, with some positive news on the injury status of Jack Eichel.
For the first time since the trade, the superstar center was seen skating without the non-contact sweater. Nearly three months after his artificial disk replacement surgery, doctors cleared Eichel for full contact.
“A lot of the contact stuff we did before practice today with him,” explained Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer. “So he went on at 9:30am and was battling with [Alec] Martinez, doing stuff 1-on-1, getting some real contact, as opposed to what you saw in practice there. That’s the first day of full contact he has had in 17, 18 months or something like that. Now it’s a matter of how does he respond, do a little bit more the next day, little bit more the next day.”
Eichel skated on a line with the extras, while also getting some time with the first team powerplay unit.
“He’s pretty damn good,” Golden Knights defenseman Ben Hutton laughed. “He’s a great skater, he’s powerful, strong, he’s going to help this lineup a lot.”
“Hope for no setbacks, he feels great right now in talking to him, he’s excited,” DeBoer said. “I don’t know what the timeline will be, but at least the process has started.”
The process is going well for Eichel, though not so much for Alec Martinez. The Golden Knights defenseman has been out for the past 32 game, after taking a skate to the face November 11th. DeBoer says he doesn’t know if the NHL’s shot blocking leader from a year ago, will play on the upcoming two-game road trip.
“It’s been a long journey. I think some positive steps, there has been some setbacks along the way, one was a COVID setback, he got hit a lot harder than everyone else,” DeBoer said. “I think if you talk to him it’s been a long, frustrating journey. I think good things are happening, but I wouldn’t say we’re at a game-time decision yet.”
Looking ahead, the Golden Knights play just seven more games in the month of February, followed up with 16 games in the month of March. Vegas’ next two opponents, Edmonton and Calgary, will play 20 games combined over the next three weeks. Both the Oilers and Flames have four games each in hand on the Pacific leading Golden Knights, meaning points are now at a premium in the division race.
“Important games, but we also have some good practice time and the last opportunity to have some good practice time for the rest of the season,” said DeBoer.
“Make the most of your games, I’ve always been a player I like to have a consistent game schedule and play every other day or every two days is pretty beneficial, but I guess we’ll have some time off,” said Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith. “March will be jam packed with games and same with April. Make the most of this month, I guess we’ll be in the gym a little more than we want to be.”
The Golden Knights start their Alberta road trip in Edmonton on Tuesday night, followed by a visit to Calgary on Wednesday.