When he was drafted 16th overall by the Montreal Canadiens, many people thought Kaiden Guhle was an uninspired pick. With a big group of talented forwards available, the defenceman with modest scoring totals was, for a lack of a better term, boring.
The 6’3”, 209-pound left-shot defenceman turned some of his skeptics around with a short but successful season.
It feels a little crazy that we’re talking about a player whose stock rose so much despite only playing 12 competitive games last season. It’s really a testament to what he was able to show in those games, specifically at the World Junior Hockey Championship and in the American Hockey League with the Laval Rocket.
That’s before you consider that he was named captain of his junior team as an 18-year-old, and missed all but two games of the shortened WHL season. He was able to start working out in full in June after a hand injury ended his season.
The variance for Guhle is much wider most in this range. Despite three votes on the bottom part of the top 10, the other rankings are all fives and sixes, including from the community.
I was somewhat surprised that I wasn’t alone placing Guhle in the top five (actually top four once you remove Jesperi Kotkaniemi). Having seen him in a small sample in the AHL, and at the World Juniors, it was clear to me that he was not a “boring” player. There’s a lot to like about his play, and I think he will definitely be an impact NHL player in the future.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Guhle debuted in the Top 25 Under 25 at eighth a year ago, and clearly improved his stock when it comes to those who were around him last year. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he is closer to the top group than he was a year ago, and the votes bear that out.
History of #5
Guhle is a great skater by any measure. It’s a bit of an underrated part of his game because we often associate mobile defenders with guys who put up big points, and who are perhaps more suspect defensively. Don’t fall into that trap. Guhle is a high-level skater, and his mobility benefits all parts of his game.
That brings us to his next strength, which is his ability to shut down opponents on the rush. He’s quite simply a great rush defender. Tracking from Mitch Brown from the World Juniors show that he was one of the best in the entire tournament. He’s able to step up at his own blue line, and he’s able to skate with attackers. He is physical, and most opponents choose to avoid him altogether when entering the zone.
His physical play doesn’t stop at the blue line.
Solid hit by Kaiden Guhle in the corner pic.twitter.com/4iM8DtaWKo— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 23, 2021
If you have one of those two, you’re on the right path to be a top NHL prospect, when you combine them, you have the potential to be something special and that’s what Guhle does. He doesn’t just overpower opponents with strength, and he doesn’t just use his speed to stop opponents. He uses both, and it’s why he has been under-appreciated as a prospect, including when he was drafted.
He also does have solid skills with the puck, and that’s another area that benefits from his skating ability. His ability to deceive allows him to make plays like this one, where he skates around everyone and gains the offensive zone.
His shot is also a weapon.
The biggest thing that Guhle will need to develop at the next level is his awareness. It was a question mark when he was drafted, and has improved, but it holds him back from making a play with the puck as opposed to just throwing it into space. Scouting reports also point out that the puck has a tendency to roll off of his stick, and his puck control can keep him from making even more plays with the puck.
It’s even something he said he was trying to work on in Laval in his short time with the Rocket in a professional experience — one he wouldn’t have had in a normal situation.
Defensively, this was a bit of an issue as well, as his in-zone coverage is not as good as his rush defence. It was hard to get a read on this part of his game, and his play at the World Juniors and in the AHL showed this may be one of the weaker parts of his strong overall game, than an actual weakness.
He won’t wow you with point totals, either, and that’s why he’s seen as more of a defensive defenceman despite his shot and skating abilities.
When he was drafted, Guhle was defined for who he wasn’t — both as a player, and literally because other players had more pre-draft buzz. He wasn’t seen as an exciting prospect and was seen as a safe pick.
What he did in his short post-draft season was turn that around. He may not be a guy to win any scoring titles, even among defencemen, but he’s definitely an exciting prospect. He won’t quarterback a power play, but his booming shot can definitely play a part there. Odds are quite good that Guhle will slot into one of the Canadiens’ top two pairings and play a role similar to the big four from the last two playoff runs.
The talk surrounding other prospects available at that slot like Hendrix Lapierre, Dawson Mercer, Mavrik Bourque, and others has quieted down slightly. Time will tell if it was the right selection, but Guhle has the potential to be the type of player who has a major impact on this Canadiens team, and it may not take him long to get there.
Our David St-Louis said last year that Guhle was a better prospect at the same age as Alexander Romanov, and I think he is continuing along that path. He also said that some would be better off not sleeping on the defenceman as a prospect, and yet again he would be proven right.
Similar to Mattias Norlinder, Guhle is in a position to be in the NHL or the CHL, which means barring a late-season appearance, an AHL cameo will not be in the cards. After missing almost the entire WHL season a year ago, that wouldn’t the worst thing in the world. He will captain the Raiders in Prince Albert and should be in the running to be Canada’s captain at the World Juniors and play a major role on that team. He would turn 20 a few days after the tournament ends.
It would be an ideal scenario for him to dominate, and if he does that, an NHL spot in 2022 is not out of the question, and perhaps even likely.
As we continue our Top 25 Under 25 Podcast series, listen to Jared discuss Guhle as we enter the top five of the ranking.