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Mike Harrington: For Brendan Guhle, new chances for a first impression

Sabres development camp kicked off shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday with a solitary figure on the ice for a minute or so before he was joined by others wearing the Blue and Gold.

There was some symbolism there. Brendan Guhle doesn't want to waste a second making a first impression on all the new eyes checking him out for the first time.

The best defense prospect in the organization turns 20 later this month and is probably ready for the NHL (again). But now the Sabres have augmented their blueline group with Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Viktor Antipin. Unless something really goes off the rails, Guhle is likely going to be an anchor in Rochester to start the season.

"Whatever happens, my goal is still to make the team this year," Guhle insisted after his first camp practice in HarborCenter. "It's not supposed to be easy but I'm not supposed to come in and have a spot ready for me either. I'll have to show them in training camp and preseason that I'm ready to play and I'm sure if I'm ready they'll do what's best for me."

And if that means starting in Rochester, that's more than OK.

By lack of talent even before their injuries struck, the Sabres could have force-fed Guhle into the NHL last season. In hindsight, maybe he could have helped Dan Bylsma and Tim Murray save their jobs. But with Jason Botterill now at the helm in Buffalo, the Sabres are going to take a more measured approach with development.

They're re-establishing some depth in their organization with free agent signings and looking to finally build a winner in Rochester. Guhle, Justin Falk, Taylor Fedun, Casey Nelson and Matt Tennyson give the Amerks five pretty interesting talents on their blueline and provide the Sabres with plenty of options when needs arise.

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If Guhle can play 20-plus minutes a night for a winning team, that's going to be a huge benefit for him. He's not getting that in the NHL -- yet -- even if he makes the team. But you know new coach Phil Housley is going to love the way Guhle plays.

You think skating and speed from the back end and you think of Guhle. It's exactly what Housley had in Nashville and what he's going to seek out here.

Guhle knows it too.

"He's a legend and it's awesome he's coaching," Guhle said. "I was pretty excited, knowing what kind of player he is. Maybe it could benefit me possibly. You know what he did in Nashville and you watched in the playoffs. You know they're all smart and so good offensively, so he can teach you a lot."

Guhle recalled watching the Predators' Game Six clincher over St. Louis that sent Nashville to its first Western Conference final. One of the goals was a Roman Josi one-timer off a ridiculous cross-ice pass from Mattias Ekholm. Guhle smiled broadly when recounting the play.

"Those guys are definitely exciting to watch," Guhle said. "You saw a goal Josi scored where Ekholm laid a back-door pass to Josi and they were both below the offensive dot. That was pretty crazy and pretty exciting. It's definitely something I want to be a part of that looks like lots of fun."

Guhle is listed at 186 pounds and probably needs to push the envelope into the 200-pound range. But his skating looked strong as usual. You saw the confidence of his third development camp come out on a one-on-one rush, when he easily stripped second-round pick Marcus Davidsson. It was Davidsson's first time on the ice with an NHL organization. You could see the difference.

Former GM Murray loved Guhle, who will always go down as the trivia answer to the question of who was the next player the Sabres drafted after Jack Eichel. Remember, Buffalo traded No. 21 in that draft (for Robin Lehner) and No. 31 (for Ryan O'Reilly) before landing Guhle at No. 51.

Murray was obviously a huge Guhle booster but he's gone now.

"I was definitely a little surprised. I don't think anybody saw that coming," Guhle said. "But it is what it is. It's a business. You just have to accept it and keep moving forward."

That means making first impressions, taking first steps on the message you want to send as a player to all those new eyes. Housley was in the stands Saturday. So was Botterill and assistants Steve Greeley and Randy Sexton, who was positively preacher-like in a meeting with Buffalo reporters that had to resonate into wild applause for Amerks fans.

"It's what development camp is. You have to meet and greet," Guhle said. "I'm just going to try to do my best on the ice, off the ice. Be a leader. Try to make a good first impression."

Guhle proves he can play in the NHL

 

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