Guhle earned his call up to the Sabres

January 08, 2018 - 1:08 pm
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Buffalo Sabres defenseman Brendan Guhle is having a marvelous rookie season in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans.

Through 35 games played this season, Guhle has seven goals and 20 points while playing primarily as a top-pair defenseman with the Amerks. Guhle leads the Amerks this season with 91 shots on goal, and has been creating plenty of offensive chances with his speed and skating abilities.

While fellow rookie C.J. Smith leads the Amerks in scoring this year, Guhle has been a key piece to the turn around in Rochester under first year head coach Chris Taylor.

The Sabres rewarded Guhle for his recent stretch of play with a call up to the big club on Monday, along with goalie Linus Ullmark.

"I feel pretty good," Guhle said following practice on Monday. "[I was] learning at the start of the year and getting more comfortable as the season went on, playing more to my strengths, and [we] finished off with a solid weekend [with] two wins. They said I earned the recall, and I'm just playing my best."

Not many thought that the 20-year old defenseman from Edmonton, Alberta would see action in the National Hockey League this season with general manager Jason Botterill wanting to develop many of his young prospects in the AHL first. But with the Sabres in a situation where they need some sort of offensive spark from their blue line, head coach Phil Housley thought now was the perfect time to take a look.

"He's played some terrific hockey down in Rochester, so it's just a good time before we hit the break we can maybe utilize him in a game," Housley said. 

"I think he's earned his way up. He's in a good spot, he's in a winning environment down there which is great for the culture of their team. It's just a good opportunity to see what he can bring to practice. I really liked his mobility obviously, but I liked the stick detail that he has defensively and what he does from our goalie working out. You look at him and he's joining the rush and making things happen back there."

Keeping Guhle in Rochester certainly would allow him to keep playing some top minutes in just about every situation imaginable for the Amerks. Entering his first professional season, it was clear that Guhle needed to work on some areas of his game that will make him more of a complete defenseman.

Last season, former general manager Tim Murray allowed Guhle to get a small taste of the NHL when he was called up on an emergency basis due to some injuries on the blue line. Guhle played in a total of three games before being re-assigned to the Western Hockey League, but did not register a point in his brief time with Buffalo.

Already through his first 35 games in Rochester, Guhle feels that he has become more assimilated with the pro game, which has allowed him to go out and be himself on the ice.

"I think just awareness overall, just getting more accustomed to the pro game, puck decisions, and where I've gotta be away from the puck. I think those are the three biggest things I've improved on since the start of the year," Guhle said.

"I know I just wanted to become the best player I can be, and the management feels the same way. Wherever I am at a certain point is what they feel is best for me, and I'm going to agree with that."

Ullmark has even taken note of how quickly he has picked up the professional game in his rookie season. The third-year veteran of AHL hockey has spent some time prior to this season with Guhle, and has been impressed with his play in both ends of the rink.

"He's taken lots of strides," Ullmark said on Monday following practice. "He's coming in as a rookie, or as a 'young guy' as we say, and he's been taking strides every day. Great puck handler, great speed, everything like that, and he's been using that a lot. He wants to [produce] more points, I think everyone wants that, but he's been doing a solid job in the defensive zone all the time. I'm happy to have him in front of me."

While in Rochester, Guhle has been a big part of the winning culture that is being established under Taylor. The Amerks, this season, are third place overall in the AHL standings at 22-8-3-3, and are currently two points back of the Toronto Marlies for the top spot in the North Division. This all while getting some timely scoring from the offense, some strong and sturdy play on defense, and some of the best goaltending in the AHL from Ullmark.

Ullmark is having a career-year to this point, tied for the most games played this season (26) while also sitting tied for the most wins (17). Ullmark is also fourth in the AHL with a .928 save-percentage, and sixth in the league with a 2.27 goals-against average.

The 24-year old netminder is enjoying the fact that he is finally playing on a winning team in Rochester while continuing to better his game every day.

"It's been terrific," Ullmark said. "I've been there for two years with a losing record, and this year we've been on fire. The boys have been playing out of their minds. We've got a great group of guys, there's a lot of fun going through practice every day and coming to the rink. Most of that is because of what kind of personnel we have on the team and the management behind [us]."

"We've got a great group of guys down there," Guhle echoed. "They're all awesome teammates. I'm thinking about them today, hope they're having a good practice. I think coming to the rink every day is a lot of fun, and I want to continue that here."

"It's just a great leadership group, everyone is included. No one's gotta try and put on a face, everyone can be themselves, and it's a great group of guys. I don't know what else to say." 

Guhle got the chance to skate on a defensive pairing with Jake McCabe at practice on Thursday, and was getting a considerable amount of reps in his first practice in Buffalo. If he manages to crack the lineup on Tuesday night when the Sabres host the Winnipeg Jets at KeyBank Center, he will just try to approach the game like any other one in Rochester.

"I'm just going to try and be myself," Guhle said. "I'll be the same guy I was in Rochester here, and I'm not going to change anything. I'm just looking forward to getting the games going."

Here's a look at how things shaped up at practice on Monday:


Forwards:

Kane - O'Reilly - Pominville

Girgensons - Eichel - Okposo

Wilson / Pouliot - Rodrigues - Reinhart

Larsson - Josefson - Nolan


Defense:

Scandella - Ristolainen

Beaulieu - Bogosian

Guhle - McCabe

Gorges - Falk


The Sabres did not have the services of Robin Lehner on Monday as he is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury. That was the reason for Ullmark's recall from Rochester, but the chances he appears in a game on Tuesday or Thursday are not likely.

"I think Ullmark's here in support in case we need to use him, but we'd like to have him up here to give Robin [Lehner] a maintenance day and bring him up for practice," Housley said.

Housley also gave an update on the status of Victor Antipin on Monday. Antipin has not played a game since December 19th against the Boston Bruins, and recently has not been able to practice due to an illness. While it seems like Antipin is beginning to feel better, he may not be back in the lineup for some time yet.

"I think he has to work his way back in. He lost a lot of weight, he was ill, and those things don't happen overnight. He's going to take some time to gain some muscle and some strength back. Right now, he's just starting to get in the mix of that. It's going to take some time for him."

Nathan Beaulieu had a similar illness a few weeks back, and also missed a handful of games with the need to re-gain some strength and muscle when he felt better. Housley is hopeful that Antipin can return to the ice for practice later this week.

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