Monday, May 23, 2016

Jake McCabe and the US to face Canadian onslaught

Reprinted with permission from

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray has mentioned on more than one occasion that he’s in the market for a left-handed, top-four defenseman, presumably to play along side the team’s top d-man, Rasmus Ristolainen. And with Sabres fans well into off season-mode thanks to the team missing the playoffs, speculation runs wild as to where we, the keyboard GM’s, will find said defenseman.

Free agent names like Keith Yandle (NYR,) Brian Campbell (FLA) and Alex Goligoski (DAL) have been thrown around in trying to find a fit and trades with teams like Minnesota, who have a healthy stockpile of defensemen, also come up in the discussion as well. There's a focus on the upcoming draft where the Sabres sit at No. 8 and any one of Olli Juolevi (FIN,) Jakob Chychrun (OHL) or Mikhail Sergachev (OHL) fit the bill but are probably at least a year or two away from hitting he NHL and as prospects, no one's even sure if they'll even hit their potential.

One prospect already in the fold, Brendan Guhle (2015, 51st overall,) looked the part in training camp last fall before he was felled by a Dion Phaneuf check in the preseason. Guhle was sent back to his junior team, Prince Albert of the WHL, and progressed nicely scoring 28 points (10 + 18) in 63 games for the Raiders before seeing his first pro action with the Rochester Americans. In six games for the Amerks, the 6'2" 189 lb. Guhle had a goal and three assists while never looking out of place.

However, a soon to be 19 yr. old on the top-pairing of an NHL team is a rare occurrence.

One defenseman already in the stable for Buffalo is Jake McCabe.

The 6'0", 214 lb. Eau Clare, Wisconsin native just completed his first full NHL season with the Sabres and acquitted himself quite well. Buffalo head coach Dan Bylsma had McCabe on the second pairing with young-vet Zach Bogosian and the two were solid as can be posting 14 points (4 + 10) in 77 games with a team-leading plus-6 in 19:07 of ice-time/game.

McCabe doesn't have the flash or offensive acumen of the players being mentioned for top-pairing duties, but he does the smart things in all areas of the ice. Team USA head coach John Hynes (NJD) has him paired with Connor Murhpy (ARI) as the team's anchor on defense both even strength and five-on-five. Murphy's three goals leads Team USA and his offensive acumen has paired well with a defensive stalwart like McCabe.

But the duo will face a huge challenge today as Team USA faces the juggernaut that is Team Canada.

The Canadians are rolling four lines featuring some preeminent talent  like Taylor Hall (EDM,) Matt Duchene (COL,) Connor McDavid (EDM,) Corey Perry (ANA) as well as Buffalo's own Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart. Although the Canadians aren't boasting their usual All-Star line-up for international competition, Team Canada is loaded with talent up and down the lineup and is leading the tournament with 40 goals in eight games on a 15.09 shooting percentage.

There will be plenty of intrigue within the Canadian/American rivalry which is renewed at 1:15 PM EST today. The headliner features presumed 2016 first-overall pick Auston Matthews leading Team USA against 2015 first-overall pick, McDavid. Both are franchise players with the latter being hailed as generational. And for Sabres fans there's McCabe and Hudson Fasching facing off against teammates O'Reilly and Reinhart.

Fasching has been playing solid for Team USA in a fourth-line role and also has gained the trust of Hynes on the penalty kill. In last game's upset of the Czech Republic, Fasching got to a puck in the slot and swept it out of harm's way denying the Czech team a golden opportunity. The importance of something like that shouldn't be overlooked in a 1-1 game that was decided in the shootout.

Overall this should be a good game to watch featuring plenty of speed and skating, but Sabres fans should keep an eye on the 22 yr. old McCabe. Seeing how he handles the pressure of playing against top-notch talent with a trip to the gold-medal game on the line a should give some indication as to whether he's ready for top-paring duties at the NHL-level.

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