In what can only be a desperation move, the Buffalo Sabres have made the rare mid-season re-call of a junior player, bringing in defenseman Brendan Guhle from the Prince George Cougars of the WHL. It’s a move so surprising that Twitter lit up with hockey insiders leading off the breaking news with “woah”, but that is where the Sabres are at with their defensive depth. As CapFriendly explains, there are only four narrow scenarios in which an NHL club can recall a player from juniors mid-season, and the Sabres fall into the “emergency” emergency call-up scenario, showing just how hard times are in upstate New York right now. Guhle is expected to play right away, as he will be needed in Buffalo’s game against the rival Boston Bruins tomorrow afternoons.
The Sabres defensive personnel to start the season looked to be pretty strong. New addition Dmitry Kulikov had solidified the top four with Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, and of course young star Rasmus Ristolainen, with Jake McCabe and Cody Franson rounding out the top six. Fast forward two months, and that depth has been obliterated. Bogosian and Kulikov have both been sidelined for weeks, and after an apparent injury last night, Gorges is set to join them. The 22-year-old Ristolainen and 23-year-old McCabe have been pressed into duty as the team’s top pair and NHL retreads Justin Falk and Taylor Fedun have been playing regular minutes as fill-ins. NCAA free agent Casey Nelson hasn’t been terrible, but with zero points and a -4 in eight games, he was demoted recently regardless of the lack of depth on the blue line. With very uninspiring options left available to the team at the AHL level, the Sabres had nowhere to turn.
Enter Guhle, the teams top defensive prospect. A 2015 second-round pick, Guhle did not make the team out of training camp earlier this year, but has drawn rave reviews from both inside and outside the organization. The team even got him into six games with their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, last season and he didn’t disappoint. Guhle scored four points in six games and looked at home in pro hockey. He’ll now get the chance to show he can stick around at the highest level. The 6’3″ stud prospect is a left-handed shot, which the Sabres now need, and can make plays on offense, which the league’s lowest scoring team also desperately needs. However, the 19-year-old is known even more for his sound defensive play, grit, work ethic, and hockey sense, all a rarity at that age. While Guhle’s call-up was under difficult and strange conditions, this is a player ready for the next level and he may end up staying with the Sabres through the season.
The real loser in all of this: the WHL’s Price George Cougars. It’s hard enough for a junior team to cope with unexpectedly losing a player mid-season, but this situation is even worse. The Cougars traded for Guhle just two weeks ago. The team gave up a forward and a defenseman of their own, and even more importantly, a first and third round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft to the Prince Albert Raiders, where Guhle had played most of his junior hockey. A team preparing for a run at the league title now may be without their prize acquisition for the rest of the year.