BUFFALO – Jack Eichel’s high right ankle sprain, an injury that will sideline the Sabres center indefinitely, hit the young star in the midst of a career-best stretch.
Since early December, Eichel had been on a tear, morphing into one of the NHL’s most lethal scoring threats.
The Sabres rank 30th in a 31-team league and have scored the second-fewest goals. They could ill afford to lose their only NHL All-Star.
With a team-best 22 goals and 53 points in 55 games, Eichel has scored 17.2 percent of the Sabres’ goals and been a part of a whopping 41.2 percent.
“It’s difficult, especially the way he’s been playing,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said this afternoon. “For two and a half months, he’s been coming into his own.”
Eichel left Saturday’s 4-2 win in Boston in the first period after his right leg bent awkwardly as he fell into the end boards. The youngster, who got tangled with Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, then skated off on his own as he grimaced in pain.
Ankle sprains are notoriously tricky injuries. Recovery times vary wildly. The Sabres, understandably, don’t want to set a timeline for Eichel. While the team said in a statement he is out indefinitely, Housley said the original prognosis is four to six weeks.
Only eight weeks are left in another miserable Sabres campaign. They host the Colorado Avalanche tonight at KeyBank Center. Housley said the Sabres have no interest in shutting Eichel down for the season.
“We’ve got a lot to prove still, we got a lot of games home,” Housley said. “We want to win these games.”
The injury is familiar to Eichel. When the former second overall pick suffered a high left ankle sprain on the eve of the 2016-17 season opener, he missed the first 21 games over a seven-week stretch.
How is Eichel handling the injury?
“He’s a tremendous competitor to win, he’s probably taking it hard,” Housley said. “But as we move forward, they’ll be light at the end of the tunnel.”
With Eichel out, others, most notably center Ryan O’Reilly, will assume more responsibility.
“It’s unfortunate,” O’Reilly said. “You hope for a speedy recovery. It’s tough. He’s our best player and he impacts the game so much. A lot of us have got to step up now.”
Housley said he told players to “just rally around” Eichel’s injury.
“Looking at our game last night, a lot of guys really had some solid efforts for us. We’re going to have to continue to do that, guys are going to get opportunities, get more ice.”
In other news, Housley said Evan Rodrigues will switch back to center tonight, winger Zemgus Girgensons will return after a one-game absence and goalie Robin Lehner will start.