A little luck would go a long way for injured Sabres

Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma describes the Jack Eichel ankle injury from practice, doesn't have an update, but says whenever you're watching a key player go down, it's not good.

Not half an hour before his star player went down in practice Wednesday morning, Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray was talking about all the elements that have to come together in a successful rebuild. The notion of luck was introduced and before the sentence was fully spoken, Murray jumped in.

“You need lots of luck,” he said.

Right now, even a drop of it would go a long way in Buffalo.

On the eve of a season in which the young Sabres hope to compete for a playoff spot, centrepiece Jack Eichel sustained what coach Dan Bylsma called a “moderate high-ankle sprain.”

While the initial thoughts—driven somewhat by the jarring scream Eichel let out when he went down—might have skewed toward him being out for a large chunk of the year, the generally accepted timetable seems to be an absence of four to six weeks.

“Certainly more weeks than days, at this point,” is how Bylsma framed it on Thursday morning.

Both Bylsma and the players acknowledged the gut punch winded them all the more because the injury occurred right before a season opener that was supposed to serve as the gateway to something better for a beleaguered franchise.

“I think yesterday there was a little shock and awe with the situation,” Byslma said.

Making matters even worse is the fact Eichel, after finishing second in rookie scoring last year, was showing signs of taking another step.

Defenceman Josh Gorges noticed a bounce in Eichel’s stride immediately after the 19-year-old returned from contributing to Team North America at the World Cup.

“I think it’s toughest on him,” Gorges said. “He put in a lot of work this off-season.

“When he got back and started skating with us after the World Cup, he was flying.”

One of the beneficiaries of that momentum was left winger Evander Kane, who found some pre-season chemistry with Eichel.

“I said to myself, ‘Geez, that’s my centreman,’” Kane said.

For a team with aspirations of punching a post-season ticket, games in October and November just took on an even greater significance. After hosting division rival Montreal on Thursday night, the Sabres will head west for a tough three-game road trip through western Canada. Every single point they can grab could pay off in a huge way come April.

“I think the desperation level to have a good start just heightened a lot more,” Kane said.

The visiting Canadiens were ravaged by the injury bug last season, most notably in the crease where Carey Price missed three quarters of the season.

The idea of playing without your best player is certainly nothing new to the Habs.

“It’s unfortunate,” Montreal captain Max Pacioretty said of Eichel’s situation. “He’s a very good player and he’s going to do a lot of good things for this team when he comes back.”

Sadly for Buffalo, that luck Murray is chasing has now eluded them for two consecutive seasons, stolen by the exact same ailment. Goalie Robin Lehner was felled by a high-ankle sprain last October during his Sabres debut. Then-backup Chad Johnson did a nice job holding down the fort, but it obviously stung to have the guy tabbed as the No. 1 on the shelf for a few months.

Bylsma also announced Thursday that the club will start the season without forward Kyle Okposo (knee) and Dmitry Kulikov (back), both strong off-season acquisitions.

As was the case then, the team has no choice now but to solider on with the roster it has—a mentality the club had no trouble embracing.

“You gotta learn how to play with the guys who are on the ice,” said Bylsma.

Maybe that attitude can somehow help lure a little good fortune to a franchise that deserves some.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.