Jack Eichel lifts the Stanley Cup
(Photo Credit: @GoldenKnights/ Twitter)

Jack Eichel, the 26-year-old center for the Vegas Golden Knights, has made history as he lifted the Stanley Cup in his first-ever NHL playoffs, less than two years after undergoing a neck surgery that no NHL player had previously come back from. Eichel, who led the playoffs in scoring, finished with a postseason-best 26 points in 22 games, driving much of the play both offensively and defensively for the Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights’ General Manager, Kelly McCrimmon, praised Eichel for his competitiveness, a trait that was somewhat underappreciated when he was acquired from the Sabres. “One of the things that our scouts really felt strongly about when we acquired Jack that was almost a little bit underappreciated was his competitiveness,” McCrimmon said before the final. “And we’ve really seen that. His physical strength and his competitiveness have really been on display in the playoffs”.

Eichel’s journey to the Stanley Cup was punctuated by a remarkable moment during Game 2 of the final against the Florida Panthers. As Eichel exited his own zone, Matthew Tkachuk delivered a massive hit at the blueline that left Eichel stunned and forced him to exit the game temporarily. Despite the brutal collision, Eichel returned at the start of the third period, immediately rushing down the ice and setting up Jonathan Marchessault for a goal. Eichel later commented on the hit, calling it “clean” and blaming himself a bit for the collision, as he was reaching for the puck.

The hit was particularly significant given Eichel’s recent history of neck surgery. In November 2021, Eichel underwent an artificial disk replacement, a type of operation that no other NHL player had previously had and returned from. Eichel missed three months before returning to the game, becoming the poster boy for the operation. This collision could have been far more devastating for him, but Eichel was able to bounce back and continue his journey to the Stanley Cup.

After winning the Cup, Eichel reflected on his journey, acknowledging there were times in his career when he had difficulty envisioning himself reaching hockey’s summit. “I think it’s only human nature to have some doubt creep in when you don’t make it to (the) playoffs for an extended period of time,” Eichel said following the Game 5 victory. “You’re wondering if it will ever happen. So many people go through their whole career without having the opportunity to hoist the Stanley Cup. It’s the hardest thing in the world (to win)”.

The impact of Eichel’s presence on the Golden Knights was also noted by his teammates. “Honestly, ever since he came here, we were just a different team,” Marchessault said. “He’s a game-changer for the group. And this Conn Smythe trophy could have definitely went to him. I could never have that without him”.

Not only did Eichel win the Stanley Cup in his first-ever NHL Playoffs, but he also becomes the first player in history to win the Stanley Cup with an average salary above $10 million. The ex-Buffalo Sabre is proving that some expensive contracts are truly worth the money.

Eichel’s journey from the operating table to lifting the Stanley Cup is a testament to his resilience, talent, and competitiveness. The Vegas Golden Knights’ first championship has set a new standard for the franchise and highlights the incredible journey of their star player, Jack Eichel.