It happens every year when NHL training camps roll around. Players not initially pencilled in the 23-man roster step up and leave their mark, forcing teams to reconsider their preconceived lineups.
While all eyes were on Mattias Norlinder, a 2019 third-round pick making his North American debut, to start this preseason for the Montreal Canadiens, it is fellow defenseman Kaiden Guhle who has been really turning heads. This isn’t exactly a surprise, but the Habs’ 2020 first-round selection is showing that there is a whole lot to like about how he plays the game.
Shades of Shea Weber
It’s obviously unfair to make comparisons this early in his career, but Guhle plays and carries himself much like Shea Weber.
He plays with the same intensity as the Canadiens’ captain and speaks with the same humility. He exudes a maturity that is well beyond his years, both on and off the ice. Getting his first taste of NHL action during training camp, he has played with confidence and shown no fear against the best players in the world.
Against the Toronto Maple Leafs last week, he led the Habs in ice time, playing 23:44 in his preseason debut alongside veteran David Savard, who sees a bright future for the 19-year-old.
Guhle finished the game with one shot, four hits, two blocked shots and a plus-1. He was equally impressive in his second contest on Friday against the Ottawa Senators and has given management a tough decision to make with training camp winding down.
Destined to Make an Impact With the Canadiens
While Guhle likely won’t start the season with the Habs, he has proven that he has a game built for the NHL even though some disagreed with his selection at no. 16 in the first round of the 2020 draft with several skilled forwards still on the board.
So far, he has admirably silenced his critics. He is arguably the most sure-fire prospect currently in the Habs’ system, one who appears destined to have a long career in Montreal. His ability to defend, be physical, take space away quickly thanks to strong gap control, and an improved first pass out of the defensive zone means his game is very well suited for today’s NHL. The fact that he has a good head on his shoulders helps too.
“I think he’s confident in the right way. He knows that he’s got things to learn, but a great kid,” said Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme.
Guhle played three games in the American Hockey League last season with the Laval Rocket and he impressed yet again in his pro debut.
A Great Opportunity With Team Canada
As tempting as it might be to graduate Guhle to the NHL in 2021-22, the best option is to send him back to the Prince Albert Raiders in the WHL so that he can continue his development and refine his skills. Not to mention that he only managed to play a handful of games last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so an extra year of seasoning in junior can only be beneficial.
Plus, he’ll have the chance to serve as captain for the Raiders and he’s already been pegged as the ideal candidate to lead Team Canada at the World Juniors. It will be a shot at redemption for Guhle and the Canadian squad after losing the gold-medal game in heartbreaking fashion last year. It should come as no surprise that he hopes to emulate Weber’s leadership style.
“That’s the kind of leader I want to be like,” Guhle said of his inspirational Habs teammate. “It looks like he doesn’t say a whole lot, but he does everything the right way and the guys follow him.”
While it appears, this season will be one to complete unfinished business instead of pondering new beginnings as an NHL player, it’s been fun to watch how effortlessly he has adapted to the pro game. If nothing else, his standout training camp performance is a glimpse into a bright future and a pleasant reminder that it’s a matter of when rather than if Guhle will be a full-time member of the Canadiens.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media & Marketing Manager as well as co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.