Mike Harrington: It's a shame Guhle can't stay - The Buffalo News

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Mike Harrington: It's a shame Guhle can't stay

A few Sabres took advantage of Thursday's off night to check out Patina 250, the restaurant in the new Westin hotel on Delaware Avenue. Rookie defenseman Brendan Guhle was one of them and it turned into a sort of goodbye meal for the 19-year-old, who looks completely NHL-ready but had to be sent back to junior hockey Friday in one of the bigger injustices of recent Sabres seasons.

Guhle scanned the menu and locked in on what's listed as the "Tomahawk Rib Eye for Two", a 34-ounce beauty with butter mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe.

"I was thinking, 'Oh, I can probably do that,' a sheepish Guhle said Friday morning in KeyBank Center. "I just didn't finish the potatoes."

Guhle devoured the steak, which was pictured in all its glory on Jack Eichel's Twitter feed when it arrived at the table Thursday night. You could say the kid did a pretty darn good job eating up everything about his NHL audition too.

There's no doubt Guhle is going to be one of the rocks of the Buffalo blue line in the future. It's a shame he can't be here right now.

Guhle was an emergency call-up from junior and had to return to the Western League once Josh Gorges and Dmitry Kulikov returned to the lineup from injuries. Kulikov was scheduled to return from his seasonlong back trouble Friday but Gorges was a stunning surprise to get back in the lineup just a week after suffering a fracture in his foot.

So Guhle could not meet the Washington Capitals for the second time this week. On Tuesday, he won't be playing against the Los Angeles Kings here either. He'll be back with Prince George playing the Tri-City Americans.

"I had a great time and it's been a lot of fun," Guhle said. "Being able to play at that level is good to know for next year. I'm looking forward to my next game, whenever that may be. ... I'm still 19 and still young. It's not often defensemen my age even get an opportunity to play in the NHL, especially as a second-rounder. I've had a lot of fun. It's been a great experience."

You could make the case Guhle is one of Buffalo's top four defensemen right now. With Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe the No. 1 pair, everything else is up in the air. Kulikov did not have a good night in his return and the pairing of Kulikov with Cody Franson was a train wreck at times. At this stage of his career, Gorges is a solid No. 3 pair guy and is overmatched against top forwards. Justin Falk has done a nice job since his call-up but is really no better than a No. 6 or No. 7 NHL defenseman.

The Sabres messed this one up right out of training camp. They opted to keep Casey Nelson as their No. 7 when he showed little aptitude to play in the NHL. They had Gorges on the top pair with Ristolainen when Kulikov got hurt in preseason. Guhle should have made the club. Franson could have been the No. 7 guy. Of course, the Sabres are on the hook for $3.9 million for Gorges through next season and $3.325 million for Franson in a deal that ends after this year.

They are able to avoid kicking in the first year of Guhle's entry year deal. They're tight to the cap as we've learned. Money talks. Welcome to the business side of the game, kid.

It's easy to hear raves about Guhle all over the Sabres' dressing room. He played 16:20 in Saturday's matinee against Boston, a scant 12 hours after he made the cross-continent flight to get here. He was at 16:48 Monday in Washington and 15:55 Tuesday against Edmonton.

"He was on the ice in Washington against Alex Ovechkin numerous times, had to defend against him," said coach Dan Bylsma. "There's significant evidence and proof that he showed he can play at this level and can play against those types of players. At the same time he's a 19-year-old kid. You know there's going to be ups and downs in his game over the course of his NHL career. He did a pretty remarkable job of stepping in for a tough situation in a tough spot and showing he can play and contribute."

With the Sabres down Gorges, Kulikov, Taylor Fedun and Zach Bogosian, it's hard to ponder where they would have been without Guhle for the last week.

"Look at the circumstances he came into," Gorges said. "He's done an outstanding job for us. He's composed, skates very well. He understands he can be aggressive even when things happen, when pucks take a bad bounce. His ability to be there and bounce back and recover is what's good to see from a young defenseman."

And keep this point in mind: Guhle didn't play against the NHL's bottom feeders, or against teams without a lot of primo offensive talent. He averaged 16:21 per game against the Bruins, Caps and Oilers. That's quite an indoctrination.

"A D-man can get called up and play a handful of minutes and have some protection against who he's playing against," Bylsma noted. "That just wasn't the case with the games he played and who he played against."

Sure wasn't. Guhle got prime time against Ovechkin on Monday in Washington and although he was on the ice for Marcus Johansson's overtime winner, he had corralled his man in front as Sam Reinhart lost the goal scorer. And Tuesday against the Oilers, he was face to face with Connor McDavid on one first-period rush. That didn't go so well as McDavid quickly accelerated past him and turned a corner to get in on Anders Nilsson.

"I knew he was coming down with a lot of speed," Guhle said. "On that one play, I had a bit of a bad gap and that kind of screwed me up a little bit. It's something I can just work on and won't let it happen again."

Guhle also admitted that there were a couple that's-Ovechkin moments Monday night but that he quickly got over them as the Great Eight was barreling down the ice against him.

"You kind of do do that a little bit but he's still on the other team," Guhle said. "You've just got to stop him. Most players you try to play the same way. Stick on puck. I'm a good enough skater where if he makes a move I can recover if I need to."

It's no stretch to say the Sabres missed Guhle's in Friday's loss to the Caps. He doesn't get flustered and bounces back from mistakes quickly, often on the same shift.

Meanwhile, Kulikov looked slow much of the time and took a hooking penalty that led to the Caps' second goal after some miscommunication with Robin Lehner in the Buffalo zone. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a diving Franson look silly on that goal, pulling the puck around him and feeding it in front.

On the game's opening goal, by T.J. Oshie, Kulikov and Franson both followed the puck into the corner and Jay Beagle flipped it in front for an easy tap-in. It was the kind of mistake Guhle simply didn't make.

"We talked about it in the coaches' office," Bylsma said. "He seemed to be cool as a cucumber and nothing seemed to faze him. A lot of credit to him."

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