Sabres’ Eichel focuses on keeping fiery emotions in check

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Breaking sticks, icy stares and one-word answers made out of frustration have done nothing to transform the Sabres into contenders during center Jack Eichel‘s three seasons in Buffalo.

Perhaps, Eichel has begun to realize he can’t lead by emotion alone.

“I think that’s important, obviously, not reacting, body language, staying upbeat. I think that’s part of it,” Eichel told The Associated Press after joining numerous teammates for an informal session at the team’s practice facility Thursday.

“I do wear my heart on my sleeve, and I’m somebody who’s very competitive. I like to win,” added Eichel, who can be as fiery his curly red hair. “This losing the last few years, I’ve never dealt with that in my life. And you kind of have to learn from it and figure out what you can do to change it.”

If that means the face of the Sabres’ needs to don a more even-keeled persona, then the 21-year-old hopes to take the next step in emerging as a leader.

“With any experience you’re going to learn things and grow as a player, as a person,” said Eichel, noting he’s consulted with various friends and mentors on what it takes to lead.

“I’ve had a few years to learn about things and see some things that occur, and the right way to do things and the wrong way to do things,” he added. “Every day, if you come in here and work and put your head down, you do the right things, you’re a good teammate, I think the results in the games will take care of themselves.”

Eichel spoke while preparing to enter a transformative season for him and potentially the franchise, which has spent much of the offseason retooling a high-priced and under-achieving roster.

For Eichel, he enters a season in which his new eight-year, $80 million contract kicks in, making the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft the highest-paid player in franchise history.

As for the Sabres, they’ve made numerous changes since finishing last for the third time in five years.

Center Ryan O'Reilly , who acknowledged a losing culture crept into the locker room, is gone after being traded to St. Louis. Buffalo’s starting over in goal with free-agent addition Carter Hutton, and Linus Ullmark set to make the jump from the minors.

General manager Jason Botterill also brought in a wealth of forward talent to potentially play alongside Eichel by acquiring wingers Conor Sheary, Jeff Skinner and Tage Thompson in separate trades. And then there’s No. 1 draft pick, Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who is expected to make an immediate impact this year.

“I think it’s good for us, some fresh faces,” Eichel said. “The last few years have been pretty bad, so I think it can bring a bit of a different culture.”

They join a team built around Eichel, a swift-skating, hard-shooting center who hasn’t yet played to his full potential due to injuries and a lack of top-line talent around him.

In three seasons, he leads all Sabres with 73 goals and 177 points in 209 games despite missing lengthy stretches with ankle injuries in each of the last two years.

His production has failed to make a dent on a team in the midst of a franchise-worst seven-year playoff drought.

The lack of success eats at Eichel.

A year ago, he arrived for the start of training camp by candidly saying, “I’ve proven nothing” over what he called “two mediocre seasons.”

This year, Eichel has very little more to add except to say: “You can only do so much talking. Obviously, we need to just go out and play.”

Veteran forward Kyle Okposo paused when asked by The AP what he would like to see out of Eichel this year. Okposo then proceeded to discuss how Eichel can be better by keeping his emotions in check.

“He’s an extremely, extremely passionate guy. I just want to see him maybe not internalize his emotions, because I think that does help him in his play, but …” Okposo said, pausing once again in search for the right words to say.

He agreed when asked if he wanted Eichel to harness his emotions.

“Yeah, that’s a good word, harness, maybe harness it a little bit and just try and not have them be so prevalent,” Okposo said.

“He takes this franchise on his back, and he puts a lot of pressure on himself,” he added, hoping the new additions will relieve some of that pressure.

“He’s a very special talent. I’d just like to see him put his head down and work,” Okposo said. “You’ve got to let those emotions out sometimes, but I think his work ethic comes first.”

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Blackhawks F Katchouk will be sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced Sunday.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.