2020 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile: Kaiden Guhle

There’s nothing wrong with being a specialist when you’re elite at your specialization

Name: Kaiden Guhle

Team: Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

Position: Defense

Stats: 64 games played, 11 goals, 29 assists, 40 points, 56 PIMs, +23 plus/minus rating

NHL Central Scouting ranking: 8th (North American Skaters)

Comparable NHL player: Alex Edler

Link to Guhle’s Elite Prospects page

Much like his WHL draft peer Braden Schneider, who I profiled in this same way recently, Kaiden Guhle is the type of prospect you need to watch closely over the course of full games to truly appreciate what he brings to the table.

Sure, the Prince Albert Raiders defenseman is good for the occasional highlight-reel play, as you’ll be able to see in the videos that I included below. But Guhle’s real strengths lie in his defensive play and the shift-to-shift effectiveness of his game, which aren’t quite as catchy to the eye.

It has been a bit of an odd career trajectory so far for the 6-foot-3, 187-pound blueliner. The Raiders organization was a bit of a mess for a few years, and wound up getting the 1st-overall selection in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, which they used to choose the highly-touted Guhle, the younger brother of Brendan Guhle. But under new head coach Marc Habscheid the team turned into a league powerhouse, winning the WHL championship in 2018-19. Despite Guhle being considered the best prospect in the league for his birth year, he didn’t see much ice time as a 16-year-old due to the depth on Prince Albert’s back end (though he did dress for all of his team’s 23 playoff games and three Memorial Cup matches)

However, the Raiders still believed in Guhle’s potential, and significantly increased his role and his duties this season, giving him big minutes in all situations. It’s not often that a prospect can go from being a 3rd-pairing defenseman at 16 to being a team’s number one defender at 17, but after an adjustment period Guhle really grew into the role and began thriving. This is an important note, as Guhle might not have been quite as polished at the start of this season as some of his draft peers who played bigger roles and logged more ice time last year.

Guhle’s biggest calling card is his defensive play, which is already excellent and projects to continue getting better and better as he continues to develop. Not only does he have great natural size and reach, he’s also a magnificent skater, able to move quickly laterally, use his edges and balance to make sharp stops and turns, and use his long, smooth stride and strong lower body to hit a great top gear in open ice. His overall strength and mobility make him nearly impossible to beat one-on-one, keeping a tight gap against opponents and then using his frame and good stick work to force them to the outside and out of trouble. He also displays a very advanced understanding of how to tie up and box out enemies around his crease without taking a penalty, a skill that doesn’t get usually get a lot of attention but makes a huge difference when it comes to preventing goals against from in and around the crease.

It also needs to be mentioned that Guhle is an incredibly competitive player. He plays on his toes and with a chip on his shoulder, and is able to ramp up his intensity and engagement if the game gets heated. He’s not afraid to play physical, either, throwing big open-ice hits to knock opponents off both their feet and their games. Even though this kind of mentality isn’t as valuable as pure skill, it’s a useful trait nevertheless — it’s always good to have players who won’t get fazed in challenging moments, such as when they’re being deafened by 20,000 fans in an opposing barn late in a playoff game.

When it comes to stopping enemy possession of the puck and regaining control for your team, very few 17-year-old defensemen can do it as well as Guhle can.

Guhle brings some offensive upside as well, albeit in limited areas. His shot is fairly impressive for a defenseman, both in its power and accuracy. He can quickly wind up for big slapshots or pick holes for his sharp wrister. He also does a very good job of getting low shots through traffic, which creates rebounds and garbage goals for his forward teammates. And with his lateral skating and how much he plays on his toes he’s able to keep plays inside the offensive zone, walk the blueline to improve his opportunities, or pinch a little higher if he sees an opening.

However, despite his high-end skating, he does struggle a bit as a puck mover. The biggest reason why is that his hands just can’t quite keep up to his feet, causing him to lose control of the puck while in motion and sometimes flub easy passes even though there is no pressure around him. Because he has trouble carrying the puck himself, he most often relies on simple outlet passes or chip plays to exit the zone, limiting his success in this regard. He’s a better technical passer when he’s already set up in the offensive zone, including while on the powerplay, but he’s not overly creative and doesn’t track offensive play quite as well as he tracks defensive play, which hurt his ability to produce points.

There are also question marks about his decision-making and vision at times. He can get caught out of position by going for big hits, and he will occasionally throw hopeful passes right into oncoming traffic. However, I don’t think this area is a red flag for him, and I predict that it will get polished to a successful NHL level after enough time in the video room.

So, even though there are some things to like about Guhle at both ends of the ice, he certainly projects a lot better in the defensive zone. However, there’s nothing wrong with being a specialist so long as a player has elite upside with that specialization, and that fits the Sherwood Park, Alberta native to a tee. The Raiders were one of the best defensive teams in the WHL this season, and Guhle was no small part of that success.

For a prime example of how a player like Guhle can be used effectively, look no further than the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he played on Canada’s first defensive pair alongside top 2020 defense prospect Jamie Drysdale, forming the best defense duo in the tournament. Drysdale was tasked with most of the puck-carrying duties while Guhle acted as the fallback safety valve, and it was a strategy that worked close to perfection. This will be the key for Guhle and how he succeeds in the NHL: if you have a high-end puck mover on your first or second pair, Guhle is the guy you can slide in next to him to take care of the back end of the ice.

Luckily for the Dallas Stars, they already have a couple of young, high-end puck movers in the organization in Miro Heiskanen and Thomas Harley. Even though both of those guys shoot left, it wouldn’t be hard to envision a defense pairing of one of them next to the left-shooting Guhle becoming a smashing success in the not-too-distant future.