BUFFALO – As Brendan Guhle watched the Nashville Predators’ recent run to the Stanley Cup final, the Sabres prospect developed an appreciation for their dynamic defense corps, a group coached by Phil Housley.
So when the Sabres named Housley, a Hall of Fame defenseman, head coach June 15, Guhle said he was “pretty excited.”
“We all know what kind of player he (was),” the Sabres’ top defense prospect said Saturday inside HarborCenter. “I don’t know, maybe it could benefit me possibly. You know the way he coached … the D-men in Nashville.”
Housley coached his defensemen to attack and utilize their speed, a style Guhle would love to showcase with the Sabres.
“I’m sure he could teach me a lot,” Guhle said following the first session of development camp.
For months, Guhle, 19, was penciled in to start the 2017-18 season with the Sabres. The defense quickly became their Achilles’ heel last season, helping them finish last in the Atlantic Division. Former general manager Tim Murray committed a huge gaffe by sending Guhle back to junior following training camp. If Murray had kept him, he still might be GM.
When Guhle subbed for three games as an emergency recall in December, he looked sharp, giving the Sabres the puck-moving defenseman they sorely needed.
But Murray, the man who drafted Guhle 51st overall in 2015, is gone. So is coach Dan Bylsma, who felt comfortable throwing Guhle into the fray as a teenager.
New GM Jason Botterill has quickly revamped the defense, acquiring Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella in trades and signing Victor Antipin, a KHL All-Star Murray technically secured.
Right now, there isn’t any room for Guhle. The youngster might have to start next season in the AHL with the Rochester Americans.
“My goal is to still make the team this year,” Guhle said. “It’s not supposed to be easy. You’re not supposed to be able just to come in and have a spot for me. I have to earn it. I’ll have to show them in the training camp and preseason I’m ready to play.”
Guhle, of course, isn’t alone. A slew of prospects Murray drafted and/or helped develop must prove themselves to a new regime.
“It’s hard to tell where you stand right now,” said Hudson Fasching, one of the Sabres’ top wing prospects.
Murray acquired Fasching, 21, from the Los Angeles Kings in 2014. Fasching made the Sabres out of camp last season and has already played 17 NHL games.
But Murray’s dismissal makes Fasching’s future a bit cloudy.
“I guess it’s kind of the one thing, pro sports, I’m trying to get used to,” Fasching said of change. “Obviously, it’s different. I’m trying to move forward. … They both have great reputations.”
So far, development camp veterans have enjoyed Botterill and Housley’s first development camp.
“Just the mood here is very upbeat, happy,” said winger Nick Baptiste, who scored 28 total goals last season between the AHL and NHL. “You can tell the direction they’re going in, Buffalo and Rochester, it’s pretty positive.”
Right away Saturday, they noticed different expectations.
“They’re looking for a lot of offensive guys trying to play fast,” Fasching said. “It’s kind of the big picture I’ve taken away at this point.”
Winger Justin Bailey, who played 32 games with the Sabres last season, said: “They want to play with pace, they want to play with high intensity and they want to score goals. They want to build a culture around here where everyone’s doing the right thing.”
Guhle has mostly done the right things since his first pro training camp two years ago. He nearly made the big club just weeks after his 18th birthday and again last season.
A small taste of the NHL helped his confidence soar. He has already bulked up to 200 pounds this offseason.
Guhle feels ready for the next step.
“I showed I can play last year,” he said. “I think my game’s developed even more than it was last year when I came up. I think I’ve become a lot better player than I was last year at this time.”