MONTREAL– Few Montreal Canadiens rookies have earned the trust of their head coach as quickly as defenceman Kaiden Guhle, who has only played four games in the NHL yet seems to have at least four years of experience in the league every time he hits the ice.
His stoic attitude combined with an incredibly well-rounded skill set has already earned him a place on the top pairing alongside David Savard.
And now, head coach Martin St-Louis has rewarded the 20-year-old with a place on the second power-play unit.
Guhle played on the powerplay with the Edmonton Oil Kings and Prince Albert Raiders in the WHL, scoring 3 goals and 14 assists in 42 games last season.
But he knows things will be a little more difficult in the NHL.
“It’s a little bit tougher,” said Guhle. “It’s a little bitter quicker out there. Quicker reads. Quicker plays. It’s something I’m excited for.”
Guhle isn’t just providing lip service when he explains his excitement level regarding potential power-play usage. He’s the type of player that wants to excel in every area on the ice, ultimately pushing his team toward victory. He’s often said he wants to win at all costs.
But he’s also aware this may not be a permanent assignment. He needs to continue his impressive progress if he’s to make an impact every game.
“I didn’t really come into this year with many expectations,” said Guhle. “I just came in trying to make the team and improve every day. It’s nice to have a start like this, but at the same time, it’s only four games, and it’s an 82-game season. I’ve got to keep it going all year.”
Guhle played a team-high 24 minutes and 43 seconds in Monday night’s win against the Penguins, which put him to the test against yet another elite player, this time Sidney Crosby.
Once you add Crosby to the list of players Guhle has faced in his young NHL career, players like Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin, it becomes clear why Martin St-Louis trusts Guhle with so many responsibilities at such a young age.
Guhle is the hockey equivalent of an old soul. A player that plays and acts like he’s seen it all, even if he’s consistently facing new challenges.
But regardless of how well Guhle has fared in his new endeavours, there is a risk he may become overwhelmed with his responsibilities, an issue faced by almost every young defenceman has to deal with when tasked with shutting down some of the best players in the league.
Can he keep it up?
“I don’t know,” said St-Louis. “In Junior, Guhle played a lot. But 25 or 30 minutes in Junior isn’t the same as in the National Hockey League. He has to get used to that conditioning level. But it’s hard to picture him playing all those minutes every year. We’ll get some reinforcements when we’re healthy, so we’ll have to keep an eye on his usage.”
Kaiden Guhle probably won’t receive 25 minutes per game for the remainder of the season, but his early baptism by fire has revealed one thing: he’s the type of player coaches can rely upon when the game is on the line.