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Eichel may keep straying from middle as Team North America seeks line combos that mesh

TORONTO -- Jack Eichel spent all of Team North America's second exhibition game playing wing and most of its third game Wednesday in Pittsburgh out of his natural position as well. The Sabres' center knew there were too many centers on the World Cup's young guns squad and that he might be the subject of some experiments by coach Todd McLellan.

"It's been a little different but it's been good," Eichel said Thursday on Media Day in Air Canada Centre. "I'm trying to get adjusted. It's something I haven't done in a while but that's a good thing for our team too. A lot of guys are interchangeable. It's a good place to play."

Asked how long "a while" was, Eichel admitted he couldn't even remember the last time he strayed out of the middle. He was at right wing Wednesday with Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau on the left side and Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the middle. Neither Eichel nor Connor McDavid scored a goal in Team North America's three exhibition games but the team still managed 13 as it went 2-1.

"I think we all kind of knew this was going to be a four-line team," Eichel said. "We have 13 forwards who can score. If you're trying to match up on a line or two, a guy or two, there's a lot of other guys who can pick it up."

How long will Eichel stay out of position? McLellan put Eichel back in the middle for the last 10 minutes of Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Czech Republic  so the line shuffling will continue with two more days of practice ahead.

"Most players who play the center ice position are better there than they are on the wing," McLellan said. "We just can't line five guys up on the faceoff, drop the puck and let them all take the draw. I feel there's more in his game that will come out and that may mean a change where he's more comfortable.

"For us to have success, we have to get production through that center ice position. ... There's risk and reward. You look who you might be playing against. Do you need a responsible low-risk centerman who's heavier and will focus more on defending? Or do you need an attack guy? It all depends on how you build your lines."

Team North America's first game here is Sunday night at 8 against Team Finland. It will also meet Sweden and Russia in pool play. Eichel said he's looking forward to the chance to play against Sabres teammate and Finnish defensive stalwart Rasmus Ristolainen in the opener

"It's going to be a little different obviously but it's always nice to go against teammates in a good competitive way," Eichel said. "It's a good starting point. Finland is a great team. Rasmus is a physical player, so tough to play against. They're playing really well. He always gets the other team's top line. You see how good he can be."

More thoughts from Eichel on Media Day:

--On Ryan O'Reilly's inclusion on Team Canada: "It's awesome. I sent him a quick text, talked to him. I'm so happy for him. You see how hard he works every day. His work ethic and demeanor should be rewarded. It's awesome he has the opportunity to do this. I know how hard he wanted it. I couldn't be happier for him."

---On Ristolainen's ongoing contract situation: "I'm not in his camp and I'm not the Buffalo Sabres. As a teammate you want to see him get the deal done and be at camp when we get there. Let things mend before the season starts and have our best foot going forward . They will figure it out. It's not really my place to comment but I'd certainly love to see him."

---On the curiosity factor surrounding Team North America: "You felt that in the exhibition games. People are excited about our team. There's that little bit of unknown. People are anxious to see what we can do. That makes our team the one to come watch. There's never been a concept like this. People want to come watch. They've never seen it before. That's what makes it exciting.

"We have the opportunity to be part of something special, part of hockey history. We don't know where this tournament or this North America concept is going to go in four years. For us to be the first to do it is pretty exciting."

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