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NHL Draft notebook: Sabres’ second-rounder excels by any measure

SUNRISE, Fla. – Brendan Guhle has excelled in Buffalo. The Sabres hope the trend continues.

The Sabres selected Guhle, a defenseman from the Western Hockey League, with their second-round pick Saturday in the NHL Draft. He showed tremendous off-ice skill at the Scouting Combine in HarborCenter, finishing in the top 10 in seven events – tied with Jack Eichel for most appearances.

“It’s a good city for me so far,” Guhle said with a smile in BB&T Center.

Guhle had the No. 1 score in the long jump (122 inches) and the Wingate bike test, which measures a player’s explosive leg power. The leg strength should help with skating.

“I’m a two-way defenseman, good skater, basically kind of a do-it-all defenseman, plays against other teams’ top lines, creates offense,” Guhle said. “I definitely want to become a lot bigger and a lot stronger.”

The 6-foot-2, 184-pounder had five goals and 27 assists in 72 games with Prince Albert.

“He can really skate,” Sabres General Manager Tim Murray said. “We had some concerns, a little bit about his defensive game. There are some things he has to improve, but I know the one thing we can teach as an organization and that’s how to check. He’s talented and he’s very athletic.”

Guhle is from Sherwood Park, Alberta, the same hometown as Sabres defenseman Mark Pysyk.

“We were actually just on the ice together a few weeks ago here,” Guhle said. “We were on the ice together for a camp for school. He’s a good guy.”

Guhle was one of four defensemen taken with the Sabres’ six draft picks. The others were fourth-rounder William Borgen (Moorhead High School in Minnesota), fifth-rounder Devante Stephens (Kelowna, Western Hockey League) and seventh-rounder Ivan Chukarov (Minnesota, North American Hockey League).

“We don’t have a lot of depth there, but it certainly wasn’t by design,” Murray said. “It was our list.”

The Sabres took center Giorgio Estephan (Lethbridge, WHL) in the sixth round and Eichel in the first. They didn’t draft a goaltender. Not having a third-round pick affected that.

“We were talking about different goalies, but they started coming off the board,” said Greg Royce, the Sabres’ director of amateur scouting. “We can do a little homework in the next two days and we can get a young goalie into camp that didn’t get drafted and be equal or better than the guys that were drafted.”

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Buffalo will know by the end of October if the city will host the 2018 World Junior Championships, said Dave Fischer, senior director of communications of USA Hockey. Speaking at the annual draft meeting of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, Fischer said USA Hockey expects to focus on six to seven sites and make visits to each before making a decision.

First Niagara Center, which hosted the event in 2011, is expected to face stiff competition from the new Detroit Red Wings arena scheduled to open for the 2017-18 season.

Fischer also said USA Hockey will announce its management team for the 2016 World Cup during an Aug. 6 news conference in Lake Placid. Training camp for that team could happen in Chicago, but it’s conceivable HarborCenter could be in the mix or as a training site for the Young Stars team. That team will be limited to players under 23 and is expected to include Connor McDavid and Eichel.

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Philadelphia first-rounder Travis Konecny was the inaugural recipient of the “EJ McGuire Award of Excellence,” named for the late Buffalo native who served as head of NHL Central Scouting. The award will be presented annually by the league to the draft prospect who best exemplifies the commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism.

McGuire died of cancer at age 58 in April 2011. He is survived by his wife, Terry, and their two children, Jacqueline and Erin.

“EJ was described by anyone who knew him as not only an unbelievably talented hockey personality but a special person who touched the hearts of everyone he met,” said Jim Gregory, the NHL’s senior vice president of hockey operations. “For those of us who were fortunate enough to be associated with this wonderful person, we really miss him.”

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The Sabres sent many members of their staff from various departments to the draft in preparation for hosting next year. The selections will take place in First Niagara Center on June 25-26, 2016.

The BB&T Center is about a 30-minute ride from the headquarters hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach, and there was very little buzz that a major NHL event was going on. Next year’s event will be heavily centered in the downtown core around the arena and HarborCenter.

“This is certainly a different climate and a different market,” said Sabres President Ted Black. “We’ve sent down more of our staff, especially operations people, than we normally do for an event like this so we can find out some of the best practices.

“We’re excited to show off the new Buffalo to the rest of the league.”

email: jvogl@buffnews.com; mharrington@buffnews.com

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