Another practice for the Buffalo Sabres at HarborCenter on Sunday morning meant yet another day of progress for Jack Eichel, who skated with his teammates for the third time as he continues to recover from a high-ankle sprain.
Eichel first joined the Sabres for their morning skate last Wednesday and then was a full participant in practice the next day. He stayed back to skate on his own while the team was in Washington on Friday, and his session on Sunday proved to be his most physical to date.
"I think today was a good test for him in a lot of ways, the speed and the pace of practice and the workload," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "There was some 5-on-5, some D-zone coverage, 2-on-2 battles down low … I thought it was a real good test for him."
How Eichel responds to his day at practice will determine the next step in his rehabilitation. The Sabres' next game is on the road in Ottawa on Tuesday, followed by a home game against the New York Rangers on Thursday.
"I think we're day-to-day," Bylsma said. "I'd like him to practice another 20 times. Jack's just really taking it day-by-day with his recovery and where he's at with his progression."
Video: BYLSMA: After Practice
Eichel skated on a line with Evander Kane on his left wing while other forwards rotated on his right on Sunday. That spot on the right is likely reserved for Sam Reinhart, who was absent from practice for a maintenance day. Bylsma said he expects Reinhart to practice with the team on Monday.
As patient as Eichel has been to this point, Bylsma said he's seen his young forward starting to get the itch to take that next step and join his teammates not just for practice, but for a game.
"I think you can feel him understand that the day is coming very soon, in the next little bit," Bylsma said. "I think he's starting to get that bug to get back on the ice and play and hopefully that comes sooner than later."
Kulikov skates in red
While his teammates practiced on one rink at HarborCenter, Dmitry Kulikov skated alone on the other rink wearing a red non-contact jersey. Kulikov has missed eight games with a lower-back injury. He last played in New Jersey on Nov. 11
"I think that's Dmitry's third practice, and the last one being a 45-minute workload and today being that level again," Bylsma said. "It's definitely progress down the road. I'd like to move him off day-to-day but he's obviously been longer than day-to-day. But it's god to see him get back on the ice and work a little bit on the ice."
Carrier recalled to Buffalo
William Carrier was a participant at practice after being recalled by the Sabres on Sunday morning. Carrier was reassigned to Rochester for the Amerks' game in Albany on Saturday, where he recorded an assist.
"He was the best player on the ice," Bylsma said when asked about Carrier's game in Rochester. "Best player on the ice. He had speed and played with the same energy, same speed, same physicality that we've seen with him."
It looked as if Carrier had been rewarded for his play in practice when he skated on Buffalo's top line with Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo. He previously played on a top line with Reinhart and Okposo while O'Reilly was injured earlier this month.
Bylsma said the team will recall at least one more forward prior to leaving for Ottawa on Monday. Cal O'Reilly and Cole Schneider were both reassigned to Rochester along with Carrier on Saturday.
Lines at practice
48 William Carrier - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 12 Brian Gionta/82 Marcus Foligno (rotating in place of Sam Reinhart)
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 27 Derek Grant - 26 Matt Moulson
4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
41 Justin Falk - 38 Taylor Fedun
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson