Jack Eichel returned to practice with the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday morning, his first skate with the team since sustaining a right high-ankle sprain in Boston on Feb. 10. Eichel was a full participant in the hour-long session, which ended with a 3-on-3 scrimmage.
Whether this is a precursor to a potential return against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday remains to be seen. Sabres coach Phil Housley refrained from putting a timetable on Eichel's return to game action, and Eichel echoed that sentiment.
"I don't really know," Eichel said. "I don't want to put a timetable or pick a specific game. I would like to play as quickly as I can. It's more about how I feel and how my ankle reacts in practice today, how it feels tomorrow, how I feel physically.
"Mentally, obviously, you're back already whenever you're out there that long and you missed that much time. You wish you were playing a few weeks ago."
Video: After Practice: EICHEL
Eichel sustained his injury during a collision with Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, his former teammate at Boston University. The forward had his right leg extended toward the end boards when he was hit by the defenseman, forcing him to fall awkwardly on his ankle.
"He felt bad about the incident," Eichel said. "You can't fault him. He's a very good friend of mine and somebody who plays the game hard. He's trying to make a play and we end up getting tangled up. You can't fault him for that."
This is the second high-ankle sprain of Eichel's career. He missed the first 21 games of last season after sustaining the same injury in his left ankle during the final practice of training camp. Eichel said he benefitted from that experience this time around, having the knowledge of what to expect in terms of recovery.
Eichel said he'll continue to look for ways to avoid similar injuries in the future. Last offseason, he implemented activities in his training regimen focused on strengthening his ankles.
"I think you look into everything," he said. "Your skates, edges, whatever you're doing. I think I'll do a lot of digging this summer on how to help myself. I think that most things are preventable. In that situation, it's unfortunate that it happened like that.
"… It's a freak accident so I'm just going to continue to do the best I can to be healthy as long as possible and be on the ice every time I can."
Despite missing the last 14 games since his injury, Eichel still leads the Sabres with 22 goals and 31 assists. He's four points shy of the career-high 57 points he scored in 61 games last season.
The Sabres had a particularly heavy practice on Tuesday, coming on the heels of back-to-back off days. The team will practice again on Wednesday, then begins a string of seven games in 12 days against Toronto on Thursday.
"It was a pretty good practice," Housley said. "There was a lot of pace to it. You could tell that he's been off for a while, but I think halfway to three quarters of the practice, I thought he looked pretty good. As the practice went on you could tell that he's been off for a long time."
Video: After Practice: Housley
Speaking afterward, however, it seemed like any feeling of fatigue was overshadowed by the relief of being back on the ice with his teammates.
"The toughest thing about being injured is just not being on the ice with them every day and just not spending that quality time you enjoy so much," he said. "You really enjoy being back out there and practicing and getting the battling in, that compete - that's the stuff that you miss when you're injured."
Rodrigues, Griffith return
There was plenty of good news on the injury front at practice, as Evan Rodrigues and Seth Griffith were both back on the ice after missing time with upper-body injuries. Rodrigues had scored four goals and five assists in 11 games prior to sustaining his injury in Tampa on Feb. 28. He's missed five games since.
Griffith, scoreless in three games since his most recent recall on Feb. 27, has been out since sustaining an injury against Calgary on March 7.
"Its good to get some guys back," Housley said. "Those are two guys we'll have to evaluate again tomorrow after a good practice. I thought the pace was really good today and we'll see how they react."
Sabres recall Ullmark
The Sabres had three goalies at practice on Tuesday after recalling Linus Ullmark to join Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson, which Housley said he expects to be the case moving forward.
"We felt it was a good time to call Linus up," the coach said. "He's certainly deserved to be up here. We're going to continue to evaluate all our players, especially our goaltenders. … He's going to get an opportunity. When that is, I don't know."
Ullmark is 20-11-10 in 42 AHL games this season, with career-highs in both save percentage (.923) and goals-against average (2.44). He stopped 44 of 45 shots in his only NHL appearance of the season, a 3-1 win against Columbus on Jan. 11.
Lines at practice
20 Scott Wilson - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 23 Sam Reinhart
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
71 Evan Rodrigues - 22 Johan Larsson - 13 Nicholas Baptiste
67 Benoit Pouliot - 10 Jacob Josefson - 17 Jordan Nolan / 25 Seth Griffith
6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
45 Brendan Guhle - 8 Casey Nelson
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 93 Victor Antipin
4 Josh Gorges - 41 Justin Falk
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson
35 Linus Ullmark