Jack Eichel is close to returning to the Buffalo Sabres.
Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Sabres Regain Eichel, Maple Leafs Easing Matthews Back

Top Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel resumed practicing with his team Tuesday, taking another big step in his comeback from his high ankle sprain.

Meanwhile No. 1 Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews continued practicing with a non-contact sweater while recovering from a shoulder injury.

Soon the NHL will have two of its better players back in action.

Eichel was injured back on Feb. 10. He resumed skating on his own earlier this month. Despite missing 14 games, he is still the leading Sabres scorer with 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) this season.

The Sabres have gone 6-6-2 in his absence.

Eichel returned to practice as the center of a line with wingers Jason Pominville and Zemgus Girgensons. He also jumped onto the top power-play unit with Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Evan Rodrigues.

That is a strong indication that Eichel could rejoin the Sabres lineup this week.

MATTHEWS ALSO MENDING

The injury-plagued Matthews has 28 goals and 22 assists in 50 games this season. He suffered his shoulder injury Feb. 22 against the New York Islanders.

“He’s obviously feeling way better,” Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock told reporters. “I noticed when we were doing the contact stuff he didn’t do as much of that, didn’t dive right into it. I never talked to anyone about that, it’s just what I noticed.”

Matthews skated with the Leafs Tuesday as an extra forward, along with Matt Martin. In his absence Babcock is deploying William Nylander as one of his four centers, along with Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and Tomas Plekanec.

Nylander will likely move back to wing once Matthews returns. And Babcock is also looking forward to regaining Matthews for his power play, which is struggling to produce consistently with both units.

“We feel we have the depth, we have to come up with a scheme and the work ethic and execution to make that happen,” Babcock said. “That will happen more when (Matthews is) back, but in the meantime, we still need power play goals out of that other group.”

But with the Maple Leafs securely in the playoff bracket, there is no urgency to get Matthews back into the fray.

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