Each day over the next 10 days leading up to the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, held on Oct. 6–7, The Rink will be taking a look at draft prospects who could be available when the Chicago Blackhawks announce their selection with the 17th overall pick. We will group the players by position, now moving to defensemen.
Next in the series of prospect profiles is Canadian defenseman Kaiden Guhle.
2019–20 Team: Prince Albert (WHL)
Date of Birth: Jan. 18, 2002
Place of Birth: Edmonton, AB, Canada
Weight: 186 pounds
NHL Central Scouting Final Ranking: 8 (North American Skaters)
NHL Central Scouting Midterm Ranking: 7 (North American Skaters)
NHL Comparable: Nikita Zadorov
If the last name sounds familiar, it probably should, as Kaiden Guhle is the younger brother of Anaheim defenseman Brendan Guhle. Though the two do have some similarities, Kaiden is a rock-solid defender who excels in his own end like few others in the 2020 draft class.
Guhle’s biggest strength is his ability to separate the puck from the opposition, and he can do so in a number of ways. Guhle utilizes his reach to poke pucks away from opponents and certainly enjoys getting physical as well, never shy—and sometimes too eager—to lay a big hit in open ice or along the boards. Guhle is also effective pinning players to the boards in order to shut down an offensive threat.
However it is not simply Guhle’s physical tools that allow him to be a top-end shutdown rearguard. Guhle thinks the game very well when defending, which allows him to read and react to plays quickly and effectively. He times his pressure well and is typically in good defensive positioning when settled.
Another strong suit of Guhle’s game is his mobility. Despite having a large frame, Guhle has no issue navigating the ice and takes advantage of that in order to cover the ice and close gaps efficiently. Guhle is also extremely stable on his feet, which helps him win battles along the boards and in front of the net. Guhle’s skating ability is also evident in the offensive end, as he likes to aggressively pinch in and get to the goal mouth to finish plays.
While Guhle does have a number of upsides to his game, particularly on the defensive side, he has a few flaws. As noted, he can be a bit too focused on taking the body at times, which can result in some defensive breakdowns, and while he does have strong mobility, his agility can sometimes allow shifty speedsters to beat him to the outside.
However, arguably the biggest area of improvement is his puck-moving ability. Guhle’s knack for separating the puck from the opponent is very special, but it can often go to waste. Guhle struggles with making decisions with the puck and regularly ends up just chipping pucks out to the neutral zone or dumping them into the offensive zone rather than connecting with teammates to keep possession. Additionally, Guhle can be caught taking too long to make a decision with the puck, which could come back to bite him significantly at the pro level.
Implications for the Blackhawks
Guhle’s draft stock is a bit of an unknown, as some like him much more than others. Given the top of the draft is rather light on defensemen, Guhle could be off the board in the top 15 if a team really needs to shore up its blue line depth. Should Guhle still be available at 17, he would give the Blackhawks something they do not have much of in the system, a heavy and reliable shutdown defender. Guhle could be a very good match on a pairing with a talented puck-mover like Adam Boqvist, as each would complement and balance out the other, somewhat similar to how Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson worked together on the blue line back when Chicago was a legitimate playoff team.
Physically, Guhle is pretty much good to go for the next level. But, because of his deficiencies with the puck on his stick, he will definitely need at least another year in the WHL, if not two, before making the jump to the pro game, where he would then greatly benefit from at least a year in the AHL. While Guhle could make the jump sooner because of his defending skills, do not expect to see Guhle on an NHL blue line regularly until 2023–24.
Guhle’s long-term upside will likely be determined exclusively by if he can develop his puck-moving ability. If he can make strides in that area, he could be a highly effective second-pairing defenseman, potentially even a low-end top-pairing option. However, without that progression, Guhle would probably top out as a No. 4 or 5 shutdown defenseman. Frankly, it is likely safer to assume the latter and if the former ends up happening, it is an added bonus.
What others are saying
“Guhle’s impact on defense covers many areas. His one-on-one play—gap control, footspeed, stick positioning, timing—is excellent, and he can finish off an opponent with a thunderous check that creates a change in possession. Other times, Guhle will fix them into the corner and contain them while using harassing stick checks until forward help arrives. The decision-making process behind Guhle’s slot coverage delivers sound courses of action that result in the elimination of threats near his own goal. Keeping his feet moving, defending the low slot with force and wielding an active stick on the penalty kill are two reasons why he’s a key cog to Prince Albert’s special teams, which have ranked near the top of the WHL in each of his two full seasons.”
“Kaiden Guhle is a toolsy left-handed blueliner who has the size and skating ability that teams covet, but his decision making is questionable at times. He shows flashes of high-end playmaking ability, but is inconsistent. He defends in zone quite well and uses his large frame and long reach to disrupt plays.”