The Vegas Golden Knights are atop the Pacific Division, yet something doesn’t feel right. A slow start to the season and a 5-4-3 record in January have left a lot still to be desired from this team that is expected to contend for the Western Conference crown.
The easy answer, at least in theory, is that forward Jack Eichel will step into the lineup when healthy and provide the punch that the Golden Knights are looking for. However, I’m not sure that it will be that simple.
Vegas already boasts an extremely talented roster without Eichel on the ice, so on paper, this team should already be among the league’s best. However, despite leading the Pacific, Vegas enters the All-Star break at 12th in the NHL in points (57) and 13th in point percentage (.620).
By no means has it been a bad season, and in some instances, coming into the playoffs, not as the favorite, can be beneficial, but it still feels as though Vegas has some issues that could become problematic in the playoffs.
Can Jack Eichel rescue the Golden Knights?
Special teams are one area in which Vegas needs to see improvement. The power play ranks 16th in the NHL (20.0%), and the penalty kill comes in at 17th (79.5%). Both units are very average, and while Eichel would surely boost the power play, I doubt that he’ll do much for the PK.
The faceoff dot is another place where Vegas will hope to get some help from its new center, as the team is among the worst in the NHL in faceoff win percentage (47.5%). Unfortunately, Eichel has won only 44.1% of his career draws, so that doesn’t seem like an immediate fix.
I think the hope for the Golden Knights is that when Eichel slots into the number one center position, it will allow other players in the lineup to thrive in a different role. In a perfect world, Eichel would not only play well himself, but his mere presence will allow the rest of the lineup to draw better matchups and succeed as well.
Another thing that I think could be positive, and maybe the largest benefit of Eichel returning, is the fact that he’ll be fresh. This, of course, hinges on the timing of his availability, but I think back to last season’s playoff run by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the way Nikita Kucherov was able to be a fresh set of legs in the lineup.
Any time a team goes deep into the postseason, fatigue is going to set in eventually, so having someone come into the lineup rested, even if it is the result of an injury, could be positive. Vegas could use that from Eichel, having been to the Western Conference Final/Stanley Cup Semifinals in back-to-back seasons.
The Golden Knights have sky-high expectations in 2022. Jack Eichel is expected to be a major part of matching those expectations, but will he be enough?