Sabres coach says Eichel will play at Ottawa

Buffalo Sabres' Jack Eichel (15) celebrates with Cal O'Reilly (19) after O'Reilly scored during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Thursday, March 31, 2016, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
Buffalo Sabres' Jack Eichel (15) celebrates with Cal O'Reilly (19) after O'Reilly scored during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Thursday, March 31, 2016, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP modified) — Sabres center Jack Eichel declared he’s cleared every hurdle in recovering from a sprained left ankle, and coach Dan Bylsma said the center will make his season debut at Ottawa on Tuesday.

Bylsma noted he was impressed by how the player performed during consecutives days of rigorous practices.

“Jack looks good on the ice,” Bylsma said.

Eichel practiced with his expected linemates, Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart, and also assumed his familiar role on the team’s top power-play unit.

Eichel was out since hurting the ankle during practice on Oct. 12, a day before Buffalo’s season opener against Montreal. He began practicing with the team last week and was scheduled to board the Sabres flight for a road trip for the first time this season.

Eichel, college hockey’s top player during his freshman season at Boston University, was selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft. He led the Sabres in scoring 24 goals and finished second among NHL rookies with 56 points in 81 games.

Eichel’s pending return has the potential of providing the Sabres a boost, particularly on a sputtering offense.

Buffalo (7-9-5) has scored one or fewer goals in regulation 12 times this season, including eight of its past 12 outings.

Injuries have played a factor. Center Ryan O’Reilly returned last week after missed five games with a strained oblique, while Evander Kane missed 11 games with broken ribs.

Buffalo is still playing without forward Tyler Ennis (sports hernia) and defensemen Zach Bogosian (sprained knee) and Dmitry Kulikov (lower back).

Eichel’s mere presence in practice provided the Sabres a lift, with several teammates notably tapping their sticks each time Eichel scored.

“I think you see that’s a little bit of relief for everybody,” Bylsma said.

Eichel is eager to come to the rescue for a team that’s 2-1-1 in its past four since ending a 0-6-2 skid.

“These are my best buddies, these are my teammates. You’d like to go through adversity with them and be able to play,” Eichel said. “And not being able to do that has been pretty rough.”

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