McPhee: Golden Knights not pressuring Eichel to rush return

Golden Knights forward Jack Eichel jokes about suiting up tonight, but says he feels like he'll know both mentally and physically when he's ready to return to the lineup, and make his debut for Vegas, but won't rush things back.

The Jack Eichel era in Vegas is nearly here.

After putting an end to the lengthy saga surrounding the star centreman's exit from Buffalo with a blockbuster deal that brought him to the desert in November, the Golden Knights saw their future No. 1 pivot take the ice with teammates for the first time Tuesday.

Now, all attention turns to just how quickly Eichel — who's recovering from an artificial disk replacement surgery in November — can get into the lineup and make his season debut.

Joining Nick Kypreos and Justin Bourne on Sportsnet 590 The FAN on Tuesday, Golden Knights president of hockey operations George McPhee said the team isn't putting any pressure on the young centreman to rush back. However, his surgery's initial timeline suggests Eichel may be able to return as soon as February.

"The timeline is unknown," McPhee told Kypreos and Bourne. "We’re two months today post-surgery, and we know that he’s going to be able to come back between three and five months. I think he feels fantastic. It couldn’t have gone any better than it has so far. But the next part will be probably the hardest in terms of when is he ready for contact and that sort of thing. So we don’t have a specific date in mind, and that’s probably a good thing so as to not put any pressure on him.

"Whenever he's ready, he's ready, and we'll get him in there."

Eichel joined the Golden Knights late last year after six seasons with the Sabres, who drafted him second-overall back in 2015. He amassed 355 points through 375 games for the struggling club, before disagreement with the organization over his artificial disc replacement surgery prompted his exit.

He joins a bona fide contender in Vegas, one that's made a routine of adding marquee names in recent years, with the likes of Alex Pietrangelo, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty having joined the Golden Knights' cause over the past half-decade as well.

But while collecting stars has positioned Vegas as one of the game's top clubs, it's also created a complicated salary cap picture to navigate — a process that won't get any simpler with Eichel's $10-million annual cap hit soon added to the mix. That said, McPhee made clear the team isn't worried about how all the pieces will fit together when the time comes, particularly given how the organization's rash of injuries this season affects that salary cap situation.

"You don’t know until you get there. If he was healthy today, he could go right in — probably at any point this season. Because we’ve had so many injuries, there’s space," McPhee said of fitting in Eichel's cap hit. "We’ll see where we are whenever he’s ready. If we have injuries, that’s one thing. If we don’t, then we’ll have to make a few decisions, that we’ve already sort of mapped out. We’ll see where it goes. But we’ve been aggressive so far, and we’ll continue to be, and we’ll figure it out when we get there."

With the Golden Knights having established a reputation for being in on seemingly every noteworthy name that hits the market — and winding up with a fair number of those players in the end — some have wondered aloud whether they'll take a look at Evander Kane, whose time with the San Jose Sharks is nearly through.

The polarizing winger, who's been mired in multiple off-ice controversies this season and previously, is said to have drawn interest from multiple teams around the league despite said list of controversies — including the Edmonton Oilers, whose GM Ken Holland spoke earlier Tuesday about having already checked in with Kane's agent.

McPhee was less forthcoming on the subject of whether his organization plans to look into adding Kane.

"It sounds like there’s a lot going on there. I think you know me well enough [to know] I can’t show my hand, it's not the way we’ve operated," he told Kypreos and Bourne. "People have us in on everything, which is fine."

Listen to George McPhee's full interview on Sportsnet 590 The FAN via the audio player embedded within this post, beginning at the 30-minute mark.

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