USATSI_9221721_154158418_lowresThe Buffalo Sabres will have to start the 2016-2017 season without Jack Eichel.

The team’s leading goal-scorer last season injured his ankle on Wednesday. He got tangled up with Zemgus Girgensons during a power play drill at practice and fell backward.

The Sabres didn’t give a timetable for his return, but some media outlets are reporting that he could be out four to six weeks.

“I saw it live and I’ve seen it on video,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s just by himself, he lifts up Zemgus’ stick and he plants his foot to go the other way and it kind of goes underneath him. It’s not any kind of battle or any kind of contact with anybody. He just lifts up Zemgus’ stick and he’s a right hand shot and he turns here and that’s where you see his ankle go out.”

The 19-year-old had 24 goals last season.

But the injury puts Eichel’s mission to lead the Sabres back to the playoffs on hold. The club is looking to return to the post-season for the first time since 2010-2011.

Buffalo is already contending with injury issues, with Kyle Okposo out with a bruised knee and Ryan O’Reilly out with a lower body injury. Luckily, both players returned to full practice on Wednesday and that could spell good news for the near future.

“I typically don’t have nightmares at home,” Bylsma said, “but I guess we’ve seen it a couple times this preseason with some injuries that have happened to Kyle, with Ryan, and with Jack today, where, yeah, you’re looking at one of your best players, your key players, going down in pain on the ice. It’s not a good thing.”

The Sabres have also seen injuries to defenceman Dmitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian during training camp, but both players returned to practice on Tuesday.

The Eichel injury will particularly hurt, though, and the team will have to make adjustments in his absence. While the usual statements about coping with adversity will make the rounds, the Sabres have to admit that losing a key piece this early in the season stinks. And it does.

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