Brendan Guhle played three games. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

With defensemen healthy, Sabres rookie Brendan Guhle must leave

BUFFALO – In his first three NHL games, Sabres defenseman Brendan Guhle showcased consistency and poise, performing like a veteran, not a 19-year-old rookie recalled from junior hockey on an emergency basis.

Guhle, less than a week into his big league career, quickly became one of the team’s top defensemen, helping solidify the injury-ravaged blue line.

But defensemen Josh Gorges (foot) and Dmitry Kulikov (back) are set to return tonight against the Washington Capitals, meaning Guhle will be sent back to the Western Hockey League’s Prince George Cougars, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.

The collective bargaining agreement dictates Guhle must go back. So for this year, yes, Guhle is probably gone. You can bet he will be a regular with the Sabres next season, though.

“I’ve had a lot of fun and it’s been a good experience,” Guhle said this morning inside KeyBank Center.

Update: Guhle has officially been sent down.

Guhle, a 2015 second-round pick, didn’t simply play three games. He faced the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin, the Edmonton Oilers and Connor McDavid and the Boston Bruins.

“We were playing the Capitals and playing the Bruins and he was on the ice in Washington against Ovechkin numerous times and had to defend against (him),” Bylsma said. “I think there was significant evidence and proof that he showed he can play at this level, showed he could play against those types of players.

“At the same time, he’s a 19-year-old kid. You know there’s going to be some ups and downs in his game over the course of his career. He did a pretty remarkable job of stepping in a tough situation, a tough spot and showing he could play and contribute.”

Bylsma said Guhle reminds him of Olli Maatta, a young defenseman he coached with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“His mindset, his levelheadedness and his consistency and his mind frame is pretty remarkable for a young kid,” Bylsma said of Guhle. “He came in pretty cool as a cucumber in how he played, in how he acted on the ice.

“When he made a mistake, he was pretty calm about bouncing back from a mistake or a missed play or whatnot. That’s a unique thing to see in a young player, and it’s a tough spot playing defense, it’s the hardest spot to play.”

Gorges, meanwhile, has been pain-free for three or four days, Bylsma said. The veteran suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left foot last Thursday.

“It feels pretty good,” Gorges said. “I’m not dealing with anything that’s hindering me or keeping me from feeling 100 percent when I’m skating.”

Kulikov missed 13 games with a lower-back bruise he suffered Sept. 30. He played 12 games with the injury, however. The Russian hasn’t played since Nov. 9.

In other injury news, winger Nick Deslauriers is ready to play after a knee injury sidelined him 19 games.

Bylsma said he has “a few decisions to make” about his lineup. Perhaps a forward is ill.

Update: Center Derek Grant won’t play tonight.

Sabres goalie Robin Lehner will start tonight, his 19th nod this season.

Some other notes on tonight’s game:

– This will be the third meeting between the Sabres and Capitals in two weeks. The Sabres lost 2-1 on Nov. 25 in Washington and 3-2 in overtime there Monday.

“We should know their tendencies, and it’s a little easier to tweak and do some things because you know what they’re going to do,” Bylsma said.

– The Capitals have a point in 23 of their last 29 games (19-6-4) against the Sabres and five of the last six outings in Buffalo (4-1-1).

– Ovechkin has compiled 26 goals and 42 points in 41 career games against the Sabres.

– Goalie Philipp Grubauer will start for the Capitals.

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