OTTAWA - Now, the moment you've all been waiting for. Jack Eichel is back for the Buffalo Sabres and will make his season debut on the road against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night. He'll center a line with Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart.
Eichel's return marks the conclusion of a seven-week recovery from a high-ankle sprain that he sustained in practice on Oct. 12, the eve of the regular season. He returned to the ice with the team for their morning skate last Wednesday and has since been participating in team practices.
Video: Preview: BUF at OTT (11/29/16)
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said the team can already feel the effect of having Eichel back on the ice.
"It makes a lot of other people fit better in our lineup," Bylsma said. "Not just his linemates with Sam and Evander but I think throughout our lineup. We've had that feeling the last two days in practice, 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."
Eichel led the Sabres with 24 goals as a rookie last season. His sophomore campaign looked especially promising given his improvement as the season wore on. He increased his points per game average from 0.47 in 34 games prior to Christmas in 2015-16 to 0.85 in the final 47 games.
Part of his success at the end of last season came as the result of his chemistry with Reinhart when the two became linemates in March. The duo connected for seven goals and combined for 29 points total in a 19-game span after March 1. Kane was a part of that success on the left wing prior to seeing his season end early due to injury.
Video: EICHEL: Pregame Interview
Bylsma put the trio back together for a preseason game right here in Ottawa on Oct. 7, when Kane and Reinhart both scored goals and Eichel tallied an assist.
"Obviously he's a pretty dynamic player," Kane said of Eichel. "It's nice to have my centerman back. Hopefully we can start up where we all left off."
Bylsma and Eichel both admitted that the nature of Eichel's injury is such that the ankle could continue to bother him for weeks or even months. Part of the process for him to return was becoming comfortable playing with that discomfort so that it won't hold him back on the ice.
Video: BYLSMA: Pregame Interview
"I think that's kind of where I've tried to get to on the ice in practices and things like that," Eichel said, "Not thinking about it, just going out there and playing. Obviously it's there, right? I know that my ankle's there, you just don't want any restrictions. You want to be out there playing you're game and not worrying about it. That's the point I wanted to get to and that's where I am now."
Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres. Coverage begins with the TOPS Pregame Show at 7 p.m. on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7:30.
48 William Carrier - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
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