Of all the indicators that Golden Knights center Jack Eichel is starting to feel like himself again, one stands out the most.
“He’s taking faceoffs,” coach Pete DeBoer said.
Eichel was hampered by a hand injury for more than a week, which kept him from performing faceoff duties. It also limited what he could do with the puck on his stick.
But based on his performance in the two-game sweep at Seattle, Eichel is close to full strength when it’s needed most. Fresh off his first multigoal game in more than two years, Eichel and the Knights open a home-and-home series Sunday against Vancouver at Rogers Arena.
“He was playing for a couple weeks there not at full health or strength. He’s starting to get that back, which makes all the difference for his scoring,” DeBoer said Friday. “You knew it was just a matter of time with Jack Eichel.”
Eichel underwent artificial disk replacement surgery in November after being acquired in a trade with Buffalo and was still shaking off almost a year’s worth of rink rust when he was struck on the right hand by a shot from Florida defenseman MacKenzie Weegar on March 17.
He didn’t come out of the lineup, but Eichel was forced to cede the responsibility on faceoffs to his linemates for the next four games. And despite productive shot totals, they didn’t have the same oomph behind them.
But starting with last Saturday’s overtime win against Chicago, Eichel was able to take faceoffs and the offensive production followed as he scored during a third-period comeback.
In Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Seattle, Eichel finished with five shots on goal and won three of four faceoffs. Along with two goals Friday, he had seven shots attempts and went 5-for-9 on draws in a season-high 22:04 of ice time.
“We sat and looked at some tape on the off day. He could have had two or three (in Wednesday’s) game, too,” DeBoer said. “He’s getting great looks. He’s working for good looks. He’s playing a good 200-foot game for us. Now they’re going in.”
The Knights are lacking offensive punch with Max Pacioretty, Reilly Smith and Mark Stone all injured, and Eichel has needed to look for his shot more often rather than trying to create for others. The result is four goals and five points in his past four games, all victories.
Eichel’s nine goals lead the Knights since his debut Feb. 16 and works out to a 34-goal pace over a full season. His 16 points in 22 appearances over that same span are second on the team behind Jonathan Marchessault (22 points in 20 games).
DeBoer said he has given Eichel the freedom to take chances in the offensive zone at the risk of getting caught deep as long as he’s been backchecking hard.
Eichel and linemate Evgenii Dadonov have made up for their defensive shortcomings together and started to develop chemistry on the first line.
“He’s obviously a real creative player,” Eichel said Friday. “He can generate a lot with the puck and (Chandler Stephenson) brings another great element with his speed and ability to skate around guys and protect the puck and hold onto it. We had a lot of chances and it was good to see a few go in.”
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