One year ago, Brendan Guhle had the kind of summer that a prospect dreams of after being drafted into the NHL. He was selected by the Sabres in the second round, but his skating and defensive poise at development camp had him looking like he might have been a steal.
That performance carried into training camp, and it earned him a few preseason games. All of a sudden, there was talk of the baby-faced defenseman, just barely 18 years old, making the big league club out of his first camp.
Most of that talk was put to rest after Guhle's fourth preseason game, when he was hit in open ice by Dion Phaneuf and forced to miss the remainder of camp. But the impression he left remained, and he returned to junior hockey as one of Buffalo's most highly touted prospects.
So with all of that in mind, is there a higher pressure to perform at development camp this week?
"Maybe to some people it is," Guhle said. "But for me, I’m just going to do the same thing I did last year and just play … You can't make the team out of development camp, I don’t think. I'm just going to take it one practice at a time and I have a few months until the real camp starts."
Another year in junior hockey, for Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League, couldn’t have hurt. Guhle recorded 28 points, including a career-high 10 goals, in 63 games for the Red Raiders.
"He's a pretty dynamic player," said Sabres assistant coach Bob Woods, who coached against Guhle during the past two seasons in the WHL. "He skates so well, he's got pretty good offensive instincts and we got to see him pretty often in Prince Albert so he was a guy you always noticed. At that level, he was pretty dominant."
Guhle said the biggest lesson he brought from his pro experience back to Prince Albert was the ability to communicate on the ice. Junior players, he found, aren’t as open to talking as they are in the pros, where on-ice chatter is frequent.
But communication also served him well off the ice. Vojtech Budik, a seventh-round pick by the Sabres this year, was a rookie with Prince Albert last season and says that Guhle was one of the people who helped him overcome the language barrier he experienced after coming from the Czech Republic.
Now, Budik and Guhle are together again at development camp.
"I'm trying to talk to him a little bit and whenever I see him, I just ask him how it's going. He's got his Czech buddies to talk to and I can't understand what they're saying," Guhle said, smiling.
So what's next in the development of Brendan Guhle? He showed during last preseason that he was strong enough mentally to rebound from mistake, and a brief stint in the AHL with Rochester allowed him to readjust to the pro game going into the summer.
"I think for sure my strength and at times just simplifying my game," he said. "I'm not necessarily a super flashy player but if I can make simple plays and help my team do the little things like breakout moving the puck quick then that’s what I need to do to make the next level."
His coaches who saw him last year believe he's already taken a step forward physically.
"Brendan is such a phenomenal skater, and he had that last season, but now he's starting to mature physically," Amerks coach Dan Lambert said. "Mentally he's always been pretty mature but he's certainly a player that I believe is going to be an impact player at some point. Whether that’s in a year, two years, three years, nobody knows for sure, but he is a dynamic skater. He's looked good out here."
"He's getting close," Woods said. "I know talking to [assistant coach Terry Murray], he was pretty excited about him as well and that’s what you want to see. You want to see these young guys improve every time you see them and from what these guys have told me they're seeing strides every time."
If he treats this summer like he did the last, Guhle believes making the Sabres is a realistic goal. If he was a part of the conversation last year, after all, why would he not be one year later?
"Absolutely, I think it's definitely a possibility," he said. "I'm just going to do whatever I can to better myself and give myself the best chance I can to make the team."