With Jack Eichel expected to make his Vegas Golden Knights debut tonight, there’s bound to be a lot of chatter around the hockey world: about his future in Vegas, about how he’ll fit in with his new teammates. It’s almost unavoidable that there will also be a lot of re-hashing of his time in the 716 with the Buffalo Sabres, and how it all came to an unfortunate & very unnecessary end.
I’m going to be honest: it’s hard.
On one side, it’s clear that the Sabres as a team wanted to move on from the conversation as soon as they could. Rather than focus on Eichel’s departure, or the treacherous waters before that, it’s understandable that they would want to focus on the players that are here & want to be here.
Here’s the thing, though. You can’t talk about today’s Buffalo Sabres team without at the very least acknowledging the Eichel connection in your head. As much as we’d all like to say we’ve moved on, we’re done thinking or talking about it, this team and Eichel, and their respective futures, will always be intrinsically tied together.
It’s not about the ‘what ifs.’ It’s about the sheer fact that Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs are crushing it so far in their time with the Sabres organization, and the fact that it wouldn’t be possible if the Eichel debacle hadn’t happened. It’s truly a double-edged sword.
The Sabres could’ve had a healthy, happy Eichel post-surgery — but they don’t.
Instead, they have a promising prospect in Krebs who has had a great showing with the Amerks so far, with 15 points in 18 games, and is fighting for a full-time NHL spot with six points in 13 games; and a wonderfully-recovered Tuch who has recorded 17 points in 15 games with Buffalo and is currently on a three-game point streak.
Without Eichel, without the Sabres’ management not allowing him to have the surgery he wanted, without the trade... Tuch & Krebs wouldn’t be in Buffalo right now.
Likewise, whatever success Eichel has in Vegas and beyond in his NHL career, he will always have that connection to Buffalo. It’s where he was drafted, where he entered the NHL and began to flourish despite being on a struggling team year after year.
Undoubtedly, when Eichel and the Golden Knights come to Buffalo on March 10, there will be a swell of media attention then, too. Perhaps there will actually be a decent-sized crowd at KeyBank Center, and hopefully those in attendance will give Jack the ‘welcome back’ cheer he deserves as a well-planned video tribute airs.
There will certainly be folks sporting Eichel jerseys around the Queen City for years to come, regardless of what’s happened or what happens in the future. His drafting and subsequent playing for the Sabres brought hope to a lot of people, and surely brought in new fans, both young and old. Now, years later, Tuch & Krebs are among a new core group of players hoping to restore that hope.
The link between Eichel and the Sabres will fade over the years. As time passes, the thread will grow thinner. Someday, it may not be the first thing we think about when Buffalo and Vegas drop the puck — but regardless, it will always be there.