BUFFALO -- Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel could miss 6-8 weeks because of an ankle injury sustained on Wednesday in the final practice before the start of the regular season, general manager Tim Murray said Thursday.
"Historically that's what they've been. I guess some guys have come back after four (weeks) or so, but we can't count on that and we can't sit here and wait for four weeks to come and think it's all going to get better," Murray said during the season opener against the Montreal Canadiens at KeyBank Center. "We have to prepare. You know me, glass half-empty, prepare long term, and anything that is better than that is a bonus."
It was particularly disappointing for the Sabres, given the hope they had heading into the season. Buffalo made offseason moves knowing it had taken steps toward challenging for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season after five consecutive years of missing them, but those chances lessen with every game Eichel misses.
"Very, because you make changes in the offseason and a lot of them are based on him and our young guys," Murray said. "You make a trade for [Dmitry] Kulikov, for example, you give up a pretty good young player in [Mark] Pysyk, and it could be a short-term move because Kulikov is at the end of his deal that's here, but you're confident that if you add a guy like that and you've added Kyle Okposo and your young guys have got a year older that you have a real shot to take a run at the playoffs and maybe beyond that. So Jack going down is a tough loss for sure."
With practice almost over Wednesday, Eichel went down hard on the ice, seeming to catch his skate while practicing power-play drills. He had to be helped off the ice by his teammates.
Ryan O'Reilly took Eichel's place on the top line centering Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart. Kane was injured in the second period and had to be helped off the ice.
Eichel, 19, was the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. He led the Sabres in goals last season (24) and finished second in points (56) behind O'Reilly (60).
"I think yesterday there was a little bit of shock and awe with the situation, having it happen on the ice, and the injury right before the start of the season," coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think there was that. I also think every team and every group has to go through some adversity and some injuries and some injury situations. You've got to learn how to play with the guys that are on the ice.
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"We believe we're 23, 24, 25 are on our roster and we're a 25-man team. We have to approach it that way. It's next man up and we've got to go out there and do it with the injury situation we have, and that's not just with Jack. Kyle [is] not in there and Dmitry [is] not in there. Those are good players for our team. We're going to have to go out and play a good team game without them."