Longtime Sabres beat writer Bill Hoppe of BuffaloHockeyBeat.com, will be writing about Sabres prospects, the Rochester Americans and related topics this season.
ROCHESTER – The winter getaway to Orlando was booked. Sabres prospect Brendan Guhle planned to spend the American Hockey League All-Star break relaxing and recharging with his girlfriend, Victoria, at Disney World.
Then on Thursday, Americans coach Chris Taylor informed the defenseman that he would be replacing injured teammate Zach Redmond in Monday’s AHL All-Star Classic.
Instead of jetting to Florida for the first time, Guhle is in Springfield, Mass. He took part in three events -- fastest skater, hardest shot and breakaway relay -- during the AHL Skills Competition on Sunday. His time of 13.6 seconds in the fastest skater competition was the sixth-fastest in event history.
— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) January 28, 2019
“It’s all right; I’m excited for this,” Guhle said following Friday’s 3-2 shootout win against the Utica Comets in Blue Cross Arena.
Guhle, 21, has kept developing throughout his second pro campaign, overcoming what he called a “rut.”
Taylor said Guhle has been improving his play away from the puck.
“He’s doing a really good job this year handling everything that’s been going on with him,” Taylor said. “He just continues to find ways to get better. It’s just rewarding for him, from last year to this year, that he gets named (an all-star).”
Skating, of course, is Guhle’s greatest asset. The former second-round pick regularly generates offense by slickly joining the rush or even leading it.
One pro scout who has regularly watched Guhle this season said he possesses “elite skating skills and mobility.”
“He has the agility, foot speed and retrieval speed to play in NHL,” the scout said.
But the 6-foot-2, 192-pound Guhle said he has also started showcasing more physicality and become more vocal.
Taylor said Guhle has become much better boxing out.
Guhle earned a two-game recall to the Sabres in December, which he said “was awesome.”
“It definitely reassures that the organization believes in me and they want me to be a part of the future, so that’s exciting for me,” said Guhle, who has compiled five goals and 20 points in 39 AHL games this season.
Not surprisingly, Taylor said defense will ultimately help Guhle, who has played 23 NHL games over the last three seasons, stick with the Sabres.
“Everybody always wants to make the big deal of the offensive side of everybody,” Taylor said. “You don’t realize defense wins championships. … That’s why we’re where we’re at (in first place), because those guys are playing the right way, playing defensively, getting sticks on the puck.
“People don’t notice that type of stuff, but that’s what makes our team better is those little things. They’re adding up. That’s why he’s improving. People want to see the 10 goals and 15 goals from him, but his defensive side of the game is really improving, and that’s going to get him to the NHL.”
Some observers thought Guhle might be in the NHL by now. He nearly made the big club as a junior-age player out of training camp in 2015 and 2016. Two years ago, the Sabres summoned him midseason from the Prince George Cougars, his Western Hockey League club, for three games.
Still, Guhle is only 101 games into his AHL career.
The scout familiar with Guhle said he “needs to add strength and power” to his game and develop his upper- and lower-body strength for battles.
The jury, the scout said, is “still out on his hockey IQ and ability to process the game quickly and efficiently.”
“His development has been slower than envisioned based on some of these aforementioned deficiencies,” he said.
The scout said Guhle, who was drafted by the Sabres’ old regime, will eventually play in the NHL but it “will probably be with his second organization.”
Prospect Jonas Johansson, 23, started Friday’s in place of injured Amerks goalie Scott Wedgewood, making 35 saves before stopping five Comets in the seven-round shootout.
The Swede performed so well with the Cincinnati Cyclones earlier this season the Amerks rewarded him with a three-game look in December.
Johansson and Michael Houser, 26, have formed a terrific netminding tandem in the ECHL, piling up wins.
Houser is 14-3-2-1 with a league-best 1.90 goals-against average, a .933 save percentage in 20 games.
“We’ve been pushing each other really hard, working together on the ice, going on early before practice and doing goalie stuff together,” said Johansson, who has compiled a strong 13-5-2-1 record. “I feel like we match each other pretty good and it helps both of us play better.”
Houser once attended the Sabres’ summer development camp and won 46 games in 2011-12, his final junior season with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights.
“He’s a little older, a little more experienced,” Johansson said. “He’s really good with his routines, taking care of his body and how to prepare for games and practice. So that’s a good thing.
“When you see him, you can think he’s in the East Coast (League), but he’s still a very professional goalie and a very good goalie, so definitely a guy I want to look up to and learn from.”
Amerks winger Taylor Leier, who was recently acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers for winger Justin Bailey, scored Friday’s shootout winner. “I didn’t try to think too much,” Leier said. … Sabres prospect Alexander Nylander, 21, has scored just one goal in his last 14 games and three in his last 21 outings with the Amerks. On Friday, the winger pumped eight shots on goal. In Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss in Syracuse, he mustered zero shots. The Amerks have eight of a possible 10 points in their last five games and reached the All-Star break with a three-point lead on Syracuse in the North Division … Sabres prospect C.J. Smith has compiled five goals and seven assists during his career-long eight-game point streak with the Amerks. … Redmond and Wedgewood are both week-to-week with lower-body injuries. … The Amerks don’t play again until Friday in Binghamton.