BUFFALO – A week ago, Sabres center Jack Eichel said he circled a date on his calendar he would like to return from the high left ankle sprain that has sidelined him six weeks.
“But that’s pretty fragile and can change pretty quickly,” Eichel told a throng of reporters after skating with his teammates this morning, his first session since injuring his ankle Oct. 12, the day before the season opener.
Eichel, of course, wouldn’t reveal the date he has in mind. High ankle sprains can be incredibly tricky injuries. But given the consistent progress he has made, playing next week seems like a possibility.
“I’m not putting a timeframe on it, but you’re starting to see the end,” coach Dan Bylsma said after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s tilt against the Detroit Red Wings.
The Sabres play Friday in Washington before games Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday next week.
Wearing a royal blue non-contact jersey, Eichel, who has been skating on his own, moved well throughout the short skate inside KeyBank Center, showing no signs of the injury.
“He looks so good out there,” said Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly, who plans to return from an oblique injury tonight. “I was just watching, he’s just so smooth on his skates. It looks like he could play already.”
Bylsma said Eichel ramped down his skating this morning.
“He’s skated at a higher level than that the last few days,” Bylsma said. “But it was a chance to get back at a practice, be it a morning skate, and be out there with players, commotion, movement, motion in a different way for him. So it’s a good sign for everybody.”
Eichel said he felt “pretty comfortable” and “pretty much forget about the ankle” on the ice.
“There’s been no setbacks, so knock on wood, it’s been pretty positive so far,” he said.
The Sabres said shortly after Eichel’s injury he would likely miss six to eight weeks. Eichel admittedly isn’t a patient person. But he has respected the long recovery process, Bylsma said.
“It wasn’t like he was saying, ‘I want to get out there tomorrow. Oh, I want to get out there tomorrow,’” Bylsma said. “We knew it was going to be a longer timeframe.”
Recently, however, Eichel has become “a little anxious about taking the next steps and getting back on the ice,” Bylsma said.
Naturally, Eichel’s presence provided a boost this morning. Some teammates applauded him when stepped on the ice.
Without Eichel, who scored 24 goals and 56 points as a rookie last season, the Sabres have scored a league-worst 1.9 goals a game.
In other news, O’Reilly, out the last five games, is officially a game-time decision, Bylsma said.
With O’Reilly back, center Johan Larsson moved from the top line back between Marcus Foligno and Brian Gionta. O’Reilly skated with Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo.
Rookie winger Cole Schneider might be scratched tonight.
Goalie Robin Lehner will start tonight for the 7-8-4 Sabres, winners of two straight games. The last-place Red Wings, meanwhile, have lost four straight contests.
In injury news, Bylsma said defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, out the last six games with a back injury, is week-to-week. The Russian aggravated a previous injury when he was knocked into the bench door Sept. 30.
“It flamed up the back situation for him,” Bylsma said.
Meanwhile, defenseman Zach Bogosian and winger Nick Deslauriers are “still a long ways away” as they recover from knee injuries, Bylsma said.
The Rochester Americans have sent goalie Jason Kasdorf to the ECHL Elmira Jackals. Kasdorf has struggled in limited action as an AHL rookie, going 0-3 with a 5.75 goals-against average and a .828 save percentage.
Kasdorf played one game with the Sabres last season after leaving R.P.I.