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Benched in game, Eichel spends practice on fourth line

TORONTO -- Jack Eichel had his ups and downs during his rookie season with the Buffalo Sabres but there was an 82-game schedule to play out of the valleys and try to climb new peaks. There is no such luxury in the World Cup of Hockey.

A sudden struggle means an immediate seat on the bench and Eichel learned that during Monday's 5-4 loss by Team North America against Team Russia. The message was hammered home in practice Tuesday as Eichel skated on TNA's fourth line with Tampa Bay's Jonathan Drouin and JT Miller of the New York Rangers. That could be his home to start Wednesday's group-play finale against Sweden (3 p.m. ESPN).

Eichel had just one shot on goal in Monday's game and that was his only shot attempt. He played just one shift in the final 6 minutes, 52 seconds and that lasted for just 28 seconds. His total ice time of 14:02 was just 29 seconds shy of the 14:31 he played in Sunday's win over Team Finland but Eichel's even-strength time was down dramatically (13:24 to 7:56) and he played just over six minutes on the power play.

"I have to make more plays and I know that," Eichel told The Buffalo News after Tuesday's practice. "I'm not really playing my game right now. I think when I get the opportunity, I just have to make the most of it."

Here's how Eichel's ice time broke down in Monday's game:

Per     Even     PP     Total
1st        3:35     1:33     5:08
2nd      2:43     1:34    4:17
3rd       1:38     2:59    4:37
Total    7:56     6:06   14:02

Here's what it looked like in the opener against Finland, when Eichel scored the first goal in a 4-1 triumph:

Per     Even     PP     Total
1st        3:25     0:40    4:32*
2nd      4:54     0:00    4:54
3rd       5:05     0:00    5:05
Total   13:24    0:40    14:31*
(*--27 seconds of penalty kill time)

"I think Jack is a tremendous player," said Team North America coach Todd McLellan. "He's got so much talent and size and vision and his ability to shoot. For us to have success, he has to have a huge impact on the game. He's been impactful. But I think there's another gear there. I want to get him on the ice in every situation possible because of that talent. He's got to take it up a notch and he knows that. He's a smart player."

Eichel wasn't the only Team North America player to serve pine time. Drouin, a key to Tampa Bay's drive to Game Seven of the Eastern Conference final, didn't have a shot attempt in his 9:59. Detroit's Dylan Larkin was minus-2 while playing 5:33 and seems in danger of being the scratch Tuesday. Columbus' Brandon Saad was held to 11:34.

Notably, lots of extra minutes went to linemates Connor McDavid (14:44 against Finland to 21:04 against Russia) and Auston Matthews (14:20 to 20:57).

Eichel took two tough hits in the third period, a cross-check from the rear by Russia's Alexey Marchenko and a high hit from Montreal's Alexei Emelin. He got up after both and seemed unaffected. Similarly, there didn't appear to be any lingering effects Tuesday as Eichel was fully engaged in Team North America's 20-minute practice in Ricoh Coliseum.

"I was pretty vulnerable there reaching for a puck and he's a guy you gotta have your head up against," Eichel said of the hit by Emelin. "I don't want to say it was high or whatever. I watched it again this morning and last night. They're both borderline plays but I know it's part of the game too."

Eichel was minus-2 in the game although one resulted when a bad bounce of the puck off a stanchion set up Nikita Kucherov for Team Russia's second of four goals in a 6:19 span.

"Obviously we would have liked to have sealed our fate to move forward," Eichel said. "We had a great opportunity to do that, kind of slipped for a couple minutes there and all of a sudden we're down three goals. They had an explosive offense.

"Credit them. They made some plays. It's nothing we couldn't have contained. We just have to clean it up for tomorrow."

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