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Sabres reward Guhle as defense prospect continues his growth

Brendan Guhle is putting his faith in the Buffalo Sabres' development plan. If they feel the defenseman should be in Rochester, that's fine by him. If they want to give him a chance in Buffalo, that's obviously a nice bonus.

It's time to cash in that bonus.

The Sabres have recalled their top defense prospect, and he's expected to be in the lineup Tuesday when Winnipeg visits KeyBank Center.

"They said I earned the recall, and I'll just play my best," said Guhle, who joined the Sabres for Monday's practice. "I was pretty excited. I feel pretty good."

The timing of the recall makes sense. Buffalo has home games Tuesday and Thursday, when it hosts Columbus, then heads out on its bye week. The Sabres can get a quick look at Guhle, then send him back to the Amerks with only one minor-league game missed.

"He's been playing some terrific hockey down in Rochester, and it's just a good time," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "He's just earned his way up."

Guhle is tied for fifth on the Amerks with 20 points in 35 games. He has seven goals and 13 assists, putting him second among rookie defensemen in the American Hockey League.

"He's been taking strides every day," said Amerks goaltender Linus Ullmark, who was also called up because Robin Lehner is day to day with a neck injury. "He's a great puck-handler with great speed. He's been using it a lot."

Guhle has been a bright spot on the organization's radar since it drafted him in the second round in 2015. He shot toward the top last season when he appeared in three games as an emergency recall. The Sabres gave the 20-year-old a long look during training camp, but the plan was to let the first-year pro prove himself in Rochester.

He's been doing that.

"I was learning at the start of the year and getting more comfortable as the season's gone on, playing more to my strengths," said Guhle, who is known for his speed and offensive instincts. "I just wanted to become the best player I could be, and management feels the same way. Wherever I am at a certain point, it's what they feel is best for me, and I'm going to agree with that."

Guhle says his general hockey awareness has increased. He's learned where to be without the puck and how best to pass it.

"You're not going to see his true growth until you see him in a game, but he's obviously got good skill," said Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe, who was Guhle's partner during practice. "He skates really well. Just growing as a pro player, you find out pretty soon, especially in the American League, it's a tough game. I've heard he's had a good year so far. It's good for his confidence, and we'll see how he does."

Sabres are quiet on the scoreboard too as they fall in Philly

Housley admits the Sabres have been tempted to call up Guhle throughout the season. Buffalo is last in the Eastern Conference at 10-23-9, and Guhle might have provided a boost. But the Sabres have been carrying eight defensemen, so they had plenty of options without rushing Guhle's development.

He's helped the Amerks to a 22-8-6 start.

"He's in a good spot," Housley said. "He's in a winning environment down there, which is great for the culture of their team. … They were winning hockey games, so it was a great chance for him to get some games, develop, bring his game to another level.

"I really like his mobility, obviously, but I like the stick detail that he has defensively and what he does from our goalie working out. Obviously, you look at him and he's joining the rush and he's making things happen back there."

The Sabres haven't received much offense from their back end. The 11 defensemen used this season have combined for six goals and 44 assists in 252 games. Guhle leads the Amerks with 91 shots.

"Coming to the rink every day is a lot of fun, and I want to continue that here," he said. "I know a little bit what to expect, and that definitely helps. I'm just going to try and be myself. I'll be the same guy as I was in Rochester here. I'm not going to change anything.

"I'm just looking forward to getting the games going."

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