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Canadiens Analysis

How Kaiden Guhle Can Take The Next Step In His Career

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montreal canadiens guhle

With the 16th overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft, the Montreal Canadiens selected defenceman Kaiden Guhle from the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, a stalwart player touted for his strong skating ability and big frame.

There comes a time when every young player in the NHL is at a crossroads. Will they become the player they are expected to be when drafted, or will they fail to meet expectations?

Gearing up for his third full season in the NHL, Kaiden Guhle is at the aforementioned crossroads.

It is time for him to take the next step in becoming the shutdown, two-way defender he was drafted to be.

It’s important to note that Guhle has faced his fair share of challenges throughout his two seasons in the NHL. He has dealt with several injuries, handed hard minutes and matchups that he might not have been ready for, and has dealt with playing on his off-side.

It is important to remember that when discussing Kaiden Guhle, he is only twenty-two years old and has a long NHL career ahead of him.

Kaiden Guhle Needs To Stay Healthy

For Guhle to complete his evolution into a top-pairing defenceman, he must stay healthy. He has missed forty-nine games in his two NHL seasons due to injury. His most recent injury led to missing the last seven games of the 2023-2024 season when he sustained an upper-body injury from a Nikita Kucherov body check.

Being healthy will be crucial for Guhle’s success in becoming the dominant two-way defenceman the Canadiens need to become competitive in the upcoming season.

It may not seem fair given that he’s just 22 years old, but the Habs cannot afford to play a significant stretch of hockey without Guhle absorbing difficult and important minutes.

Guhle’s Hard Minutes

The Montreal Canadiens have trotted out a young defensive core with limited experience over the last two seasons.

Consequently, Guhle has been asked to provide a service he was perhaps not quite yet ready for: the job of going head-to-head with the best players the NHL has to offer. Being in the Atlantic division means facing the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Auston Matthews and Aleksander Barkov on a nightly basis.

Guhle finished second among Montreal Canadiens players in total ice time. He also finished third among Canadiens defencemen in percentage of shifts starting in the defensive zone, trailing behind the two blue-line veterans David Savard and Mike Matheson. In these shifts, Guhle started at a disadvantage even before the puck dropped, which is not a role a young twenty-two-year-old is often challenged with.

All this to say, Guhle’s underlying numbers were not stellar, but the odds were stacked against him due to his usage.

On that note, there comes a point where a high draft pick with Guhle’s upside must perform at a level where he can be trusted with these hard minutes.

Kaiden Guhle’s Revolving Door of Defensive Partners

There’s an element in hockey that’s impossible to dispute.

Players perform better when they have familiarity on the ice.

Having familiarity means having consistent linemates, or in Guhle’s case, having a consistent defensive partner. The more someone plays with the same partner, the more chemistry and comfort they will build, positively affecting their overall play.

Guhle spent much of his year playing with almost all defencemen who suited up for the Canadiens this past season. The lack of consistency in usage was yet another hurdle the young defenceman had to jump.

Having a steady partner with whom Guhle can gain trust and confidence will be another big part of him taking a positive jump in the 2024-2025 season.

As a player, it helps to know your teammate’s habits and patterns. Especially being a defenceman, it helps to know where your partner will be when you go back to retrieve a puck in the defensive zone. The best defensive duos in the NHL do not even have to look sometimes; they will know where their partner will be. That is what Guhle needs to find in a partner to shut down opposing teams’ top lines, and he will only find this if he plays more with the same partner. 

Guhle Playing His Off-Side

While he has faced many challenges throughout his young career, playing on his off side may be the greatest challenge of them all.

Being a left-handed defenceman playing the right side has its challenges, and is considered playing the “off-side”. Guhle spent much of his time playing the right side when paired with Mike Matheson, which makes it hard on a defenceman for a variety of reasons.

For example, breakouts are a little more complicated. Defencemen on their offside are constantly exposing the puck, rather than shielding it with their body.,

It also makes it harder to receive D-to-D passes, as you have to shift your whole body to receive it on the forehand. Doing this makes it harder to see what is happening up the ice, making it much harder to make a breakout pass up to the forwards.

As a forward, it is also much easier to forecheck a defenceman on their off-side because the puck is much more exposed.

This often forces the defenceman to make the breakout pass on the backhand, which leads to more turnovers than making a pass on the forehand.

Simply put, making plays on the backhand automatically increases the odds of turning the puck over. 

For Guhle to be at his very best, the Montreal Canadiens must find a way to return him to his natural position on the blue line. Once his usage is properly adjusted to put him in a situation to thrive, it will be up to Guhle to take the next step.

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Greg

Obviously, Guhle will be better on his natural left side, and he should be there already. We have too many defencemen who are NHL ready, PERIOD. We’ve had an anemic offence almost since the 80s, and management still is drafting defence when we have too many already. Just because they think we are set on line 1 and have a few pieces for the other lines, that doesn’t mean keep taking degence. 23 man rosters are usually built as such: 13 fwds, 7 d, and 3 goalies. So maybe a little more emphasis on forwards for the next few drafts is in order.

Zane

Another brilliant article from Cam! Been loving his articles since he joined the team! Keep up the good work

Peter

Obviously he should be on the left side and move Matheson to the right. Matheson is already pathetic defensively so who would notice the difference. Guhle’s instints are better served on the left as often there was a hesitation that would not occur on his natural side. Also why did no one come to his defence after Kucherov’s cheap shot? Matheson’s +/- would have been a lot worse had he not been playing with Guhle and also Guhle stats suffered when earlier he played with Barron as he often was covering up for their mistakes. Stats suffer when you have to do someone else’s job as well as your own.

Billy739

Trade Matheson
Re-sign Savard OR Kovy to play with the youth 1-2 more years.
Let Guhle, Hutson and Barron play top 4 with Xhekaj-Mailloux on 3rd pair.
You’ll see a big boost to all our youth but you’ll need Harris and Struble gone too.
Too many D in play who are overachieving and leaving Laval so stacked.
Move Matheson, Harris and Struble so the rest can thrive

Mitch

I disagree with trading Matheson. I believe we need a goal scoring forward and we should trade Guhle now while he is worth something substantial! We need to build our young defenseman around Matheson who has already established himself in the NHL!

Mahovlich1971

Matheson’s defensive play is abysmal, and if he was traded the Montreal powerplay could have Guhle and Hutson and would be far superior.

Dana

Core players drafted early in a rebuild always have a lot of different player rotation, it’s not unique to Guhle. Players come and go as the roster turns over- it’s part of the process. Neither is playing the offside, it’s a common practice in the NHL, and some players prefer it. It makes him more valuable to be able to do both. Playing heavy minutes against the best players in the league before you’re ready is tougher for sure but again, this is not uncharted territory. Rookie brock Faber is one of many current player examples. If Guhle was a rookie on that Minnesota team this past year, people would be talking about him in similar terms to Faber but his development has been in a far more challenging environment and it’s reflective in the way you play/ make decisions and the resulting numbers.

Guhle is a good player on an unsuccessful team. He is growing just as the other young players around him are growing. Hutson Reinbacher and Mailloux will have a lot of guys in addition to Guhle that recently went through the learning curve which will make their transition a little easier so their numbers will reflect the progress of the team.

Staying healthy is imperative (nobody tries to get hurt, well unless you’re picking fights with Xhekaj)as you mention, but stepping up next year, like Suzuki has done in recent seasons, to demonstrate the growth of his game into the early part of his prime will be expected. I’m excited to see him help lead the team taking a big step closer to next years playoffs. He’s playing well overseas right with really good players, and he’s one also.

Dana

Core players drafted early in a rebuild always have a lot of different player rotation, it’s not unique to Guhle. Players come and go as the roster turns over- it’s part of the process. Neither is playing the offside, it’s a common practice in the NHL, and some players prefer it. It makes him more valuable to be able to do both. Playing heavy minutes against the best players in the league before you’re ready is tougher for sure but again, this is not uncharted territory. Rookie brock Faber is one of many current player examples. If Guhle was a rookie on that Minnesota team this past year, people would be talking about him in similar terms to Faber but his development has been in a far more challenging environment and it’s reflective in the way you play/ make decisions and the resulting numbers.

Guhle is a good player on an unsuccessful team. He is growing just as the other young players around him are growing. Hutson Reinbacher and Mailloux will have a lot of guys in addition to Guhle that recently went through the learning curve which will make their transition a little easier so their numbers will reflect the progress of the team.

Staying healthy is imperative (nobody tries to get hurt, well unless you’re picking fights with Xhekaj)as you mention, but stepping up next year, like Suzuki has done in recent seasons, to demonstrate the growth of his game into the early part of his prime will be expected. I’m excited to see him help lead the team take a big step closer to next years playoffs. He’s playing well overseas right with good players, and he’s one also.

Peter

Crossroad? He is second in points among defencemen at the World Championship with only Roman Josi having more. Move Matheson to the right side and Guhle back to the left, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that out. Since Matheson is weak defensively anyway who would notice the difference.

habbycat

Matheson will stay on the left side to maximize his trade value until he’s moved, maybe next year or not until the year after. Guhle will move back once they figure out if Mailloux or Reinbacher can be a good partner for him, or the Habs pick up an offensive right D to be his partner. Once that takes place the rest of the D will organize itself.
Hutson may be a second pair guy to limit the defensive liabilities against top lines with Guhle on the left side if the top pair with a rock solid right D. In spite of having a LOT of quality young Dmen on the roster, we might yet need another top right D.

David

Recently I stumbled across a very good player who plays in Switzerland. an undrafted player named Theo Rochette.
Théo Rochette #90 Lausanne Hockey Club (Heroic) – YouTube

John Smith

Good piece Cam! I would add that Guhle needs to add some more meat on his bones. He needs to bulk up. I’d also have him train with those same type of goggles that Slafkovsky used last summer. He also needs more training in terms of absorbing hits. Guhle is still very young. Defensemen take a very long time to develop. Mike Matheson had to play for 3 different teams and reach 31 before he hit his full potential. That could be 9 years for Guhle. Above all though, as you articulated, Guhle has to go on the left side.

Jason

Kuhle will be fine, playing how he has for his age, i believe he will only get better. he is physical and skates well with some offensive upside