Can Kaiden Guhle become a top-pair defender?

Guhle played the whole year on the top pair, 2024-25 is sure to be the same. Is he a fit or is he there because nobody else can?
Florida Panthers v Montreal Canadiens
Florida Panthers v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

The Montreal Canadiens blueline is looking to have one of the brightest future’s throughout the league.

At this juncture, aside from Mike Matheson, the Canadiens don’t have a bona fide top-pairing defender. However, Kaiden Guhle did mix it up on the top pairing alongside Matheson and showed plenty of promise. With all that said there is some work to be done before we can peg him as a top pair guy.

Guhle discussed in an exit interview wanting to add some muscle mass to his frame. This would allow him to handle opponents at the net front and in the corner. Improving his strength would help him in board battles and handle the full 82-game schedule.

The Edmonton, Alberta., native currently sits atop the under-25 defender group. And with a full season of top pair responsibilities and minutes under his belt, he has a step up on the young defenders pushing for the club and/or more minutes. But is he a top pair talent in the making or should he play on the second defence pair?

I would say he has all the tools to thrive on the top pair. Ideally, he would slot perfectly beside an offensive-minded defender, which is precisely why he and Matheson were tested out. As Guhle grows his all-around game, he will more than makeup for Matheson’s defensive shortcomings. 

Still yet to hit his prime, Guhle has plenty of room to grow, and developing on the top pair will only help him learn to defend against the best the opposition can throw at him. A lot of his growth will come from more reps, but from what he has already shown; he is no slouch. When the fastest skates challenge him in foot races, he finds a second gear to get loose pucks out of danger. 

Likewise, he is quick skating backwards, positionally he cuts off angles with his body. If he is challenged with a deke or a pass, he defends well with his stick. Though he isn’t as physical as he was in his junior hockey days, he does surprise now and then hammering opponents to the ice with thunderous body checks. 

I’m not convinced that he will ever be a big-time producer on offence, but he is a good enough playmaker to assist his teammates. He also has a heavy, accurate shot in his repertoire, that he could stand to use more. He plays a simple game offensively. but shines when defending and limiting time and space for opponents. 

Guhle isn’t flashy; I would say he is a jack of all trades, but master of none. But his defensive work tells us otherwise, like Shea Weber he is hard to play against. Weber has the big shot, whereas Guhle has incredible mobility for his size and with a little muscle on his frame, he could stand to use his weight like Weber used to. 

I think that he has the potential to play on the top pair for a long time. But if Lane Hutson proves to be the offensive player he looks to be, who can log big minutes, perhaps he will play there. This would make the Habs defence very strong, with Guhle on the second pair.