The 2020 NHL Draft class is loaded with talent, with nearly every team selecting in the first round looking at adding a prospect projected to become a key talent in the near future. If you’re looking for a forward, you’re spoiled for choice, with various skill sets on offer. Should your organizational depth have holes on defence, there are some great options within the top 10, where both Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson are expected to go. Outside of that section, most of the scouting services project a gaggle of forwards as the best players available, but there are some highly regarded blue-liners close to that range. The most promising of the bunch may be Prince Albert Raiders top-pairing stalwart Kaiden Guhle.
Birthplace: Sherwood Park, Alberta
Date of birth: January 18, 2002
Weight: 187 lbs.
Draft-Year Team: Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Teams that miss out the offensive Drysdale and the all-around Sanderson essentially have Guhle and Braden Schneider as their two options in the middle of the opening round, with several other defenders ranked more toward the final third. Neither is a surefire bet to make the NHL, but both have skills that give them good shots of achieving that dream. In Guhle’s case, it will be his defensive acumen that gets him taken fairly early on October 6.
Guhle offers no room for opponents to work with whatsoever. He doesn’t wait for players to come to him, but closes on them as they try to transition through the neutral zone, and cuts off their options.
His side of the ice was quite lonely for much of his draft season. Players simply avoided attacking his half of the ice because they knew their odds were better against whomever Guhle’s teammate happened to be on that shift. Rushes down his wing stopped before they started, and often with a big hit if the 6’3” saw his chance.
He tended to see too many of those chances. He was prone to making a poor decision when deciding to throw his body around, sometimes doing it without the proper support behind him, and allowing odd-man rushes. It’s one area where Schneider is regarded as the smarter option, being more aware of his surroundings and picking his spots better on when to crunch an opponent.
In terms of in-zone defending, when hitting isn’t a viable option, Guhle looks much more disciplined, sticking with his man and preventing him for creating offensive plays. He patrols his part of the ice around the net, and closes off any player who even thinks about entering his assigned space.
Because he plays his check so closely, he creates a lot of turnovers along the boards. Good acceleration can get him away from his opponent to start a breakout, and when he has room to run he’s a good transition defender, making a good outlet pass or carrying it himself. When his option isn’t so obvious, that transition game breaks down, and he does have a bad tendency to force plays while under pressure. The lack of awareness that shows up in his physical game manifests in his defensive-zone playmaking, and serves as one reason why scouts rank such a gifted defensive player outside the top class.
Elite Prospects: #20
Future Considerations: #25
Hockey Prospect: #22
McKeen’s Hockey: #14
NHL Central Scouting: #8 (North American skaters)
He had a very good draft year on offence, tied for the lead on Prince Albert’s defence corps with 24 even-strength points. He was at his best when he could join in the rush as the trailing option and make use of a good wristshot from close range. He sometimes played a role at the right faceoff dot on the power play, setting up in a one-time position, or racing to the crease on a back-door play for a tap-in.
It was in cases where he was in possession of the puck that the offensive limitations were exposed. Without an obvious plan of attack, a lack of creativity saw few scoring chances created. He often settled for sending a wrist shot from the blue line without trying to open up a lane, which occasionally went through traffic for a goal, but mostly resulted in an easy block, or at best a scramble around the goalmouth.
If there is an NHL team looking at his point total from 2019-20 and expecting to have a mobile offensive weapon in the future, it will likely be disappointed in his development. The defenceman’s top talent is his neutralizing defensive game, with good mobility allowing him to stay with good forwards and limit their offence. Big hits (in the right situation) and the occasional goal or assist off the rush will be bonuses from the shutdown defender, so long as his awareness issues don’t prevent him from making an impact at the top level.