BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Jack Eichel is back in Buffalo, but this time he's wearing a Golden Knights jersey.
"It's strange but I'm not the first guy to get traded to a different team and go back to the team they were at," he said. "It's a little awkward going to the visitors room but other guys have done it. It's business as always."
The former Sabres captain was traded in early November to Las Vegas and was part of a deal that sent Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs to Buffalo. Eichel wasn't able to skate right away with Las Vegas, but was able to get the neck surgery he initially wanted.
"They [Sabres] stuck by their doctors' opinions and I respect them for that. I hope people can respect me for standing by what I believed in," he said. "I hope that me being back playing and healthy, I hope that can be an example of somebody sticking by what they believe in and having a successful outcome."
The neck surgery was a hot topic between Eichel and the Sabres organization as the two disagreed on what type of surgery Eichel should have. Eichel stood firm on his opinion and ultimately got what he wanted. He had surgery in December and was able to get back on the ice for practice just a few weeks later. His first game back was on February 16th.
"I couldn't be happier to be back playing hockey," Eichel said. "I feel like I've gotten better and have tried to work on different things with my game."
And with Eichel back practicing and preparing to face his former organization, there's no ill will, at least on Eichel's side. He understands the difference of opinions surrounding his surgery was all business.
"I had a phenomenal time in Buffalo and lived out a childhood dream in playing in my first NHL game," Eichel said. "The organization and city was nothing but great to me and my family. There's no bitterness in me whatsoever."
During Eichel's tenure in Buffalo, he and the Sabres weren't able to achieve much. They didn't have one winning season and never finished higher than 23rd overall in the league standings, including finishing dead last twice.
Eichel scored more than 20 goals in each of his first five seasons, and was named Captain in October 2018. That captaincy was stripped at the start of this season's Training Camp.
While Eichel didn't help the team get the results they wanted, he did try and get results off the ice. Eichel spent his time in Buffalo showering the community with love; that included sending flowers to nurses at Roswell Park for Nurses Day, donating masks to area hospitals during the COVID-19 Pandemic, and donating a suite to local charities during home games.
"The City and the people here gave me so much so I tried to give back as much as I could. Minus the last 12 months, there was a lot of really good moments. I thought I had a lot. I hope the City can maybe look at it for the previous 5 1/2 years and everything good that happened then."
Entering Thursday night's game with seven points in ten games played this season, Eichel is hoping to build off his early success. The Knights are currently in a battle for a playoff spot and need to collect some wins. While he's focused on helping his current team, he admits it'll be weird playing on the ice he called home for so many years.
"I've had a lot of great memories in this building. Whenever you come back to a place like that, you start trickling down memory lane," he explained. "I feel like I gave everything I had while I was here, my time in Buffalo, to the organization and to the community so I'm at peace with all of that. Whatever the reception is I'll be able to handle it."
The Sabres and Knights face off Thursday at 7 p.m.