BUFFALO, N.Y. — After three years in the NHL's basement, the Buffalo Sabres planned on turning the corner this season. That plan got a whole lot tougher one day before Buffalo's season opener when budding superstar Jack Eichel suffered a severe ankle injury.
The injury occurred at Buffalo's final practice before its opener against the Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m., Thursday). Late in the practice session, Eichel awkwardly fell to the ice after tangling with teammate Zemgus Girgensons. He screamed in pain and was helped off the ice by his teammates.
The Sabres announced that Eichel suffered a high ankle sprain — which means he could miss 1-2 months.
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“He has an ankle injury and at this point not a lot to tell after that,” Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma said, according to NHL.com. “He's going to get evaluated this afternoon. Initially he goes down in a lot of pain obviously and I think the initial shock of it is you see that, but we're going to let it calm down here and get evaluated and see the extent of him turning his ankle there.”
The second overall pick in the 2015 draft, Eichel became an instant sensation in Buffalo and led the Sabres in goals as a rookie with 24.
Eichel isn't the only key member of the Sabres to begin the year on the infirmary list. Free-agent addition Kyle Okposo will miss the opener with a knee injury, and center Ryan O'Reilly's status is up in the air due to a back injury.
One positive for the Sabres is the return of defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Ristolainen returned after signing a six-year deal with the Sabres on Thursday. Goalie Robin Lehner is also in much better shape after a promising but injury-plagued season one year ago; Lehner lost more than 20 pounds in preparation for the upcoming season.
The Canadiens, meanwhile, will be without their star goaltender for the season opener. Carey Price will not make the trip to Buffalo due to an illness. The Canadiens are counting on Price to return as the backbone of their team; Montreal's season fell apart last year after Price was lost for the season due to a knee injury.
“Unfortunately, he caught the flu and everyone reacts differently to medicine,” Ottawa head coach Michel Therrien said, according to NHL.com “He caught a nasty bug, as we're seeing now. He's day-to-day. There's a chance he'll join the team in Ottawa on Friday, but he'll have to be healthy. It's too bad, but there's nothing we can do about it.”
“That's hockey. There will be setbacks. We all would have liked for Carey to be between the pipes for the first game. Not only us, but our fans too. It's just going to be a matter of time now.”
Al Montoya is expected to start between the pipes for Montreal in his first game for the Canadiens. He'll be backed up by Charlie Lindgren.
It will be the Montreal debut for defenseman Shea Weber, who was acquired in a blockbuster trade for P.K. Subban this offseason. Weber, 31, spent his first 10 seasons with the Nashville Predators. Gritty forward Andrew Shaw will also make his Montreal debut after spending his entire career with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Canadiens also added Russian forward Alexander Radulov, who has spent most of his career in the KHL after brief spells with the Nashville Predators.