For many Buffalo Sabres fans, Brendan Guhle is “the answer” to all of the team’s problems.
Sure, it’s easy to question some of the team’s recent moves on defense. When the Sabres recalled Taylor Fedun on October 20, most fans seemed to understand. Fedun has some NHL experience with Buffalo under his belt, so bringing him up first made sense.
The next day, however, when the Sabres recalled Zach Redmond, a name relatively unfamiliar to many fans, the move was questioned. After all, Guhle was supposed to be Buffalo’s top defensive prospect, wasn’t he? So why recall Redmond, who only just came to the organization, over Guhle?
Both Redmond and Fedun were eventually returned to the Amerks in late October, with Fedun being recalled to Buffalo once again on October 31.
Although Guhle may be a highly-touted prospect, in these cases, Sabres GM Jason Botterill made a choice, going with experienced players in a rough situation rather than forcing a prospect who isn’t ready.
Fedun has 41 games of NHL experience, 29 of which have come with Buffalo between last season and this season. Redmond has 132 games of NHL experience between Winnipeg, Colorado, Montreal and Buffalo.
Guhle, 20, has three NHL games under his belt, and only 21 AHL games. This season is his first full season in the professional leagues – he spent most of the last two seasons with Prince Albert and Prince George in the WHL.
While his first full AHL season so far isn’t going terrible, it isn’t going incredibly well, either. Yes, he has four assists in nine games, which leads Amerks defensemen. But that isn’t the only facet of a defenseman’s game.
The American Hockey League doesn’t publicly release time-on-ice information, so it’s hard to quantify just how much time Guhle is spending on the ice. When he is out there, it’s a mixed bag of results.
In nine games, the opposing team has scored 14 times when Guhle was on the ice, including a pair of power-play goals. That’s nearly half of the 31 goals-against the Amerks have allowed.
The Amerks, meanwhile, have scored nine times with him out there, including an overtime winner and a pair of power-play goals. That, too, is nearly half – the team has scored 19 goals on the season thus far.
That’s not to say that Guhle isn’t helping the Amerks, or that he couldn’t help the Sabres if he was recalled. Maybe he could – but even that would only be so much help on such a struggling team that’s (still) in the midst of a rebuild.
The point is: there’s a bigger picture at stake here: Guhle’s overall development as a player. For this, he needs that time in the AHL, rather than being forced up to the NHL before he’s fully ready.
That’s why, as confusing as it may seem that Matt Tennyson is playing in the NHL over Guhle, it’s a move that absolutely makes sense.
There’s a reason leagues like the AHL exist, and this is exactly it. Guhle has grown out of junior hockey, but he isn’t quite there for the NHL just yet.
Some of you, as you read this, will roll your eyes and say “Yes, okay, we get it.” Trust me, I get it. It’s understandably frustrating to watch this struggling Sabres team; it’s easy to recall the days when Guhle was drafted and he was lauded with praise; critics noted his speed and skating ability. On the surface, the no-brainer move might be bringing Guhle up to the NHL right now.
But what happens if the Sabres recall him?
He’d be unlikely to see first-pairing action, might get a shot at some second-pairing time, but more likely, would be stuck in the third pairing. The team around him is filled with questions, struggling to score and struggling overall to find their feet.
Why put him in that situation, when he can instead stick with the Amerks and gain critical experience and development there?
So yes, it’s hard to hear, Sabres fans.
But be patient, and give the kid – he is still a kid, after all, at only 20 – a little more time.
It might just be worth it.
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