He may be 18-years old, but he has impressed a lot of people in the Buffalo Sabres organization.
“The Buffalo Sabres aren’t the only people saying right now, ‘That’s a late second-round pick’ and being surprised about it,” Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma said. “His skating and ability has been shown pretty well against NHL players. You see him in the summer time and in rookie development, then you see him against NHL competition and I’m watching in Minnesota and he spent a lot of time against Zach Parise in that game dealing with one of the strongest toughest players down low.”
Brendan Guhle was the 51st overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Sabres. The 6′ 2″, 181-pound left-handed shot defenseman was highly regarded for his skating and his style of play heading into the Draft. He was available in the late-second round, and the Sabres would not let him slip any further.
“He’s 6′ 2″, he’s lean, he’s gotta put on some mass and get stronger,” Sabres general manager Tim Murray said after the Draft. “He’s an unbelievable athlete. He tested off the charts, he can really skate. We had some concerns about his defensive game. He went where he went, so there are some things he has to improve. I know the one thing we can teach as an organization is how to check. He’s talented and very athletic.”
At development camp, Guhle put up a good performance against some of the best prospects in the Sabres organization. Guhle skated well, and was one of the more impressive rookies at the development camp.
Then came training camp, and the preseason, where Guhle has made his lasting impressions on many.
In practices, Guhle is making some smart plays with and without the puck. His skating has only improved, and he is improving his overall game.
In his first preseason game against the Minnesota Wild, Guhle started out a bit off his game due to nerves, but got his feet wet quick and finished the game on a high note. Playing on a pairing with Mark Pysyk, Guhle finished the game with four blocked shots, two hits, a shot, a plus-1 rating, and plus-4 Corsi rating in 20:31 of total ice-time.
“He was awesome,” said Pysyk. “He’s 18, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that watching him play and watching him skate. Couldn’t believe how smooth he was. I told him just to play with confidence and that he is here for a reason, and I think he did that.”
In his second game against the Ottawa Senators, his comfort level was evident as he played the game with a bigger chip on his shoulder. Guhle finished the game with three shots, two blocked shots, and had a plus-10 Corsi rating in 17:52 of total ice-time on a pairing with Jerome Leduc.
In his third preseason game, Guhle was stellar against the Toronto Maple Leafs on a pairing with Jake McCabe. Guhle registered his first two assists of the preseason, and put up three shots along with a hit and a blocked shot in 13:06 of total ice-time.
There is a lot to like about the way Guhle has played in his short stint so far with the Sabres. His acceleration and power in his skating is impressive for a kid of his age. His footwork is solid, and his strength does not always allow opposing players to put him out of position. His on-ice awareness has improved as he has become a more alert player in all aspects of his game. Also, his shot has gotten more powerful since his junior days with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League.
Where can Guhle improve his game with about a week and a half left in the preseason? At times, Guhle needs to work on his physicality along the side boards on the ice, and needs to do a better job of forcing players to beat him in that area. Also, Guhle has been caught a couple of times watching the puck instead of attacking the puck. Also at times, he tends to reach for the puck instead of attacking it or anticipating the course of a play. Again, Guhle is only 18, and he is surely likely to get better over the course of the season. So far in the preseason, he looks like a fast learner as he has looked better every day that has passed along the way.
With the level of play Guhle has displayed, could a possible nine-game regular season stint with the organization be at hand for the youngster?
It would have to be an extreme set of circumstances in order for Guhle to get his shot at a nine-game stint with the Sabres this season. Defensemen would have to start dropping like flies in order for Guhle to get a shot in the NHL right away. Even though Guhle is a left-handed shot, which is what the Sabres need, there are other left-handed defensemen on the team who would get the chance first over him. Right now, there should be no rush for Guhle to get the NHL experience. If players are healthy, Guhle should be sent back to Prince Albert and let him grow on what he has learned with the Sabres.
Guhle’s potential is high right now, and it is promising to see how much progress he has made. Maybe next year is the year that Guhle can get his true shot at cracking the opening night roster with the Sabres.
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