It took only one practice with Jack Eichel to break Alex Pietrangelo.
The Golden Knights defenseman was exasperated with the team’s new center by the end of a two-on-two drill in the offensive zone Friday at City National Arena. Pietrangelo threw his hands in the air when Eichel set up center Chandler Stephenson for his first assist of the session after scoring two goals.
It helped that no one could get near Eichel in the tight-area scrimmage because of the no-contact jersey he was wearing. But the Knights hope he’s just as much of a headache for opposing teams when he gets back to playing games.
“He picked my pocket a couple of times,” defenseman Zach Whitecloud said. “He’s a quick guy, and I didn’t even know he was behind me a few times. Anyone that’s been watching our practice or whatever, you can see the amount of skill he has and what he can do with the puck.”
Friday was Eichel’s second practice with the Knights after Tuesday’s optional morning skate and first with many of his teammates.
He’s finishing his recovery from his Nov. 12 artificial disk replacement surgery on his neck after skating on his own in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s unclear when the Knights’ marquee trade acquisition will be ready to play again. Knights coach Pete DeBoer said Tuesday that Eichel won’t be able to take contact “for a while.” Eichel said he doesn’t have a target date for when he will play his first game since March 7.
His performance Friday at least showed the skill that allowed him to get 139 goals and 355 points in his first 375 NHL games is still there.
“It brings a real nice breath of fresh air seeing him out there,” captain Mark Stone said. “It’s exciting to get him in practice and inching him closer to playing games. It brings us a lot of energy just seeing him out there.”
He’s especially excited for the event to be at T-Mobile Arena.
“Obviously, our city is pretty electric,” Stone said. “Our building is the best in the NHL (with) atmosphere and production. I’m excited to see what they put together for the All-Star Game. I’m sure our fans will appreciate it.”
Pietrangelo and DeBoer also will represent the Knights. DeBoer was named coach of the Pacific Division because the Knights led the standings by points percentage when the selections were made Tuesday.
“It’s a great honor,” said DeBoer, who credited the players, coaches, trainers and medical staff for getting the Knights into first place despite numerous injuries and COVID-19 protocol absences. “I’m fortunate that I get to go and experience it, but really it’s all of those people that it’s a reflection on.”
DeBoer said left wing William Carrier is day to day with an upper-body injury he suffered Jan. 8 against Chicago. He skated before the rest of his teammates Friday.
The 27-year-old has nine points in 30 games.