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Catching The Torch: The Unbeatable Kaiden Guhle

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The big defenceman is proving to be a human wall at the start of the WHL season.

Prince Albert Raiders v Kelowna Rockets Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images

Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Montreal Canadiens prospects playing at the Junior (OHL, WHL), and collegiate (NCAA) level.

Is there such a thing as a perfect WHL defender? Because Kaiden Guhle might get close to that this season. He is ridiculously impressive defending off the rush, to the point where watching that facet of his game is pure entertainment. Attackers simply can’t rush past him. If they try, the puck gets stripped away from them, or worse, they get plastered to the boards.

Fifteen-year-old Connor Bedard, the first player to get exceptional status in the WHL, learned that the hard way. Bedard will be an immense talent in the league and likely the first overall NHL pick for the 2023 NHL Draft (although Matvei Michkov might have something to say about that), but no matter his current speed and handling skills, gaining the wide lane against Guhle is not possible. It is a no-fly zone. When Bedard tried in the first period of his first-ever WHL game (0:20 in the video below), he got crushed. No special permission for the rookie.

Later in the game (0:40), Bedard got another opportunity to rush the puck up ice. Pitted against Guhle again, he immediately switched sides of the ice, initiating a criss-crossing movement with a teammate. Guhle tried to follow Bedard, but ended up ramming the other attacker. Guhle’s partner didn’t close his gap in time and Bedard won the entry. Clever adaptation.

Kaiden Guhle wears #6 in green for the Prince Albert Raiders

Overall, over the 25 minutes he played, Guhle didn’t allow a single offensive-zone entry on his side of the blue line. The only way attackers who gained access to the zone did it was by using the ice on his partner’s side of the ice, like Bedard did.

I would be curious to see Mitch Brown’s tracking data at the end of the season for the Prince Albert Raiders, if he does end up tracking that team. Guhle was already near the top of last year’s class in breakups and preventing controlled zone entries. His results should be even better this year. He is stronger, more athletic, and more confident. Nothing should get past him.

With the puck, Guhle didn’t have as many occasions to show his talents. He created more rush attacks for his team by forcing turnovers in between blue lines than by passing the puck. That being said, when he did he get possession in his zone, he showed some projectable elements: poise, activations, protection abilities, and some deception.

In the clips below, he misdirects a forechecker by looking off his intended passing target, slips the puck under a stick, shields it with his body as he retrieves it in the corner, and moves his feet as soon as he passes to support the rush.

There wasn’t any real misplay in his puck-moving sequences. If there was an option available, he generally found it and then got open for a return pass.

You can’t say the same for his offensive game, however, as Guhle left some scoring chances on the table. He needs to work the puck inside more. The defence gave him space that he didn’t exploit, occasions to drag the puck to the middle of the ice before firing it (instead of shooting from the top corner of the zone) and to slip the puck inside the defensive box to a teammate.

He became more assertive offensively as the game went on, however, as he started using his skating to walk the blue line, getting an assist from a well-timed and well-placed shot from the point on the power play. He also jumped up from his blue-line position to skate the periphery of the offensive zone. He missed a pass option, but the shots he fired as he circled the opposing end could have turned into rebound chances for his teammates in the slot.

Overall, it was a very promising first weekend of games for Guhle. While it is already clear that the defenceman has outgrown his competition, the Junior game can still teach him a lot about the offensive side of the game. The extra space and the lesser defences could allow him to develop his aggressiveness and creativity.

For Guhle, it is not a matter of ability — his skating, shot, and handling skills are NHL-level tools already. Take a look at his goal on Sunday, an almost in-stride wrister that hit off the post and in.

What is missing in Guhle’s offence is recognition: seeing his chances to influence the attack, the open lanes, the open spaces, the times when he has a speed or an angle advantage over the opposition. In other words, the offensive instinct.

Contrary to many, I don’t believe this ability to be innate. Guhle is a mature blue-liner with a passion for the details of hockey. He’s already built himself a strong NHL base in his defensive game and now, over the course of this season and probably the next, he has the time to expand on it, to diversify his strengths, see new situations in which to use his skills, and integrate those.

If Guhle manages to do that, he will not only become a staple of the Canadiens’ blue line, but contribute to its transformation into a play-driving, offensive group.

Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble, LDs, Northeastern Huskies

The Northeastern Huskies lost 4-1 to the University of Massachusetts on Sunday, which means their season could be over if they don't receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

Jordan Harris finishes the regular season as a point-per-game defenceman, which is quite rare in the NCAA. His increased production speaks to his offensive improvements this season. He is more than ready for professional hockey and something tells me that he will become a prized project of Joël Bouchard.

No matter what happens, Jayden Struble should remain with the Huskies for at least another season. His game is still in need of a few tweaks. If he can remain healthy, the ‘‘Greek god’’ will surely have a dominant junior campaign. Like Harris before him, Struble will see a jump in his offensive and defensive responsibilities. He will be given all the ice time he needs to discover new ways to use his multiple skills and develop his reads away from the puck.

NCAA/USHL weekly stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 0 0 0 0
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 0 0 0 0
Sean Farrell 2020 LW USHL Chicago 2 0 1 1
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Tri-City 0 0 0 0
Jack Smith 2020 C USHL Sioux Falls 0 0 0 0
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 0 0 0 0
Blake Biondi 2020 C NCHC Minnesota-Duluth 0 0 0 0
Luke Tuch 2020 LW Hockey East Boston 0 0 0 0

NCAA/USHL Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 31 30 22 52
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 31 6 7 13
Sean Farrell 2020 LW USHL Chicago 53 29 72 101
Sean Farrell (playoffs) 2020 LW USHL Chicago 6 1 4 5
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon/Tri-City 43 13 21 34
Jack Smith 2020 C USHL Sioux Falls 47 7 6 13
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 18 2 10 12
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 19 6 13 19
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 13 5 4 9
Blake Biondi 2020 C NCHC Minnesota-Duluth 25 2 3 5
Luke Tuch 2020 LW Hockey East Boston 16 6 5 11

Goalie weekly stats

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Jakub Dobes 2020 USHL Omaha 0-2-0 2.10 0.923 0

Goalie Season to date

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Jakub Dobes 2020 USHL Omaha 26-16-2-1 2.48 0.908 2
Jakub Dobes (playoffs) 2020 USHL Omaha 0-2-0 2.10 0.923 0