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Jack Eichel to make season debut for Sabres

Second-year center missed first 21 games because of high ankle sprain

by Chris Stevenson / Correspondent

OTTAWA -- Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel will make his season debut Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators (7:30 p.m. ET; MSG-B, RDS2, TSN5, NHL.TV).

"Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. I've been waiting for a while so it will be nice to play a game," Eichel, who sustained a high ankle sprain in practice on Oct. 12 and missed the first 21 games of the season, said. "It feels like it's been a while. What has it been, 21, 22 games? It's been a while. Just excited to get back into the game action and play instead of watch."

But Eichel, selected the No. 2 pick by the Sabres in the 2015 NHL Draft, said he is resigned to the fact that it will take some time before he feels 100 percent.

Read: Fantasy impact of Jack Eichel's return

"I think it's something you kind of have to get used to," Eichel said. "Just talking to the guys who have had it before and went through it, it's not going to be 100 percent completely back to where you forget about it and if feels like it did before the injury for a while. It's something I've learned to live with and just try and take care of it as good as you can.

"You can notice it all times, to be honest. But it's not something that bothers you, you just notice it. It's not something that restricts you from doing anything, but you know it's there. I've talked to a lot of people and even the doctors have said it's something that will slowly start to fade away. It's not just going to happen within this first seven weeks or so, it's going to be a lot longer than that. It's something mentally you just learn to deal with."

Video: NAT@FIN: Eichel puts home rebound on the power play

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said he will be mindful of easing Eichel back into a regular role.

"It's an injury that Jack is probably going to feel for the next two weeks, four weeks, month, month and a half, two months, however long it is," Bylsma said. "It's not going to feel 100 percent. He's got to understand that. We have to understand that, but at the same time getting back into our game, he hasn't played a game yet this year. I hope it's not going to be 23 minutes of ice time tonight. It's going to be gradual, step back into his role on our team, his spot on our team."

Eichel led Buffalo with 24 goals last season, so his return is welcomed by the Sabres, who are last in the NHL with an average of 1.81 goals per game. The Sabres, who are in last place in the Atlantic Division, went 7-9-5 without Eichel, who will play center on a line with Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart.

Kane, who missed 11 games after injuring his ribs in the season opener and has yet to score a goal, said he is hoping to get a boost from Eichel's return. 

"He's a pretty dynamic player," Kane said. "It's nice to have my centerman back. Hopefully we can start off where we all left off, actually back here in Ottawa in our last exhibition game."

Bylsma said Eichel's return will have the added benefit of slotting other players into roles more suited for their talents.

"I think the question of what is the trickle-down effect of having Jack in your lineup, I think it fits, it makes a lot of other people fit better in our lineup," Bylsma said. "Not just from his linemates, Sam and Evander, but throughout our lineup. We've had the feeling the last two days in practice that you feel a lot better about where you're slotted, where you're playing and it's had an effect on our team. It's got to show up in the game, but it's had an effect on our team from an offensive standpoint."

Video: BUF@NJD: Eichel's great effort for empty-net goal

Eichel said it was disappointing to be injured coming off the World Cup of Hockey 2016, where he had a goal and an assist for Team North America. He said he was in great shape and anticipating his second season. 

"You work all summer and you try to hit the ground running and you're excited about a season, it's your second year and you're looking forward to it," he said. "You're postponed a little bit. That happens. Hockey is a contact game with a lot of injuries. I credit all the staff here with the Sabres and everyone who's helped get me healthy quick and I just look forward to returning tonight and trying to make an impact on the team.

"There's no true test like a game."

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