"He's so mature," a Western Canada scout said about defenseman Kaiden Guhle. "The way he handles himself, it's hard to believe he's only 19."
Hockey Canada seems to feel the same, naming the 19-year-old Montreal Canadiens prospect the captain of the nation's 2022 World Junior Championship squad.
Guhle is the only returning defenseman from the 2021 team, and just one of three players overall from the group that won silver - goaltender Dylan Garand and forward Cole Perfetti being the others. Perfetti was named alternate captain, along with Jake Neighbours, but Guhle will be the one with the coveted 'C' when Canada opens up play against Czechia on Boxing Day.
The message was delivered by Sidney Crosby, who you may have heard about at some point before. It's a moment Guhle won't forget.
“It was a special moment. Don't really get to hear from that caliber player every day," Guhle told reporters on Monday afternoon. “I've been lucky to have some really good captains through my years ... it just comes with doing the right thing every day and being there for your teammates.”
If there's anything for Canadiens fans to get excited about this season -- especially with the team being shut down in advance of the Christmas break -- it's getting to see Guhle play a pivotal role in Canada's attempt at gold on home ice. Guhle and 2021 top pick Owen Power will be the pillars of Canada's defense, but Guhle's experience in the tournament was something Hockey Canada couldn't ignore.
"He's a consummate pro," coach Dave Cameron said. "He comes in every day, he puts in the work and he lets that speak for himself."
Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme told reporters earlier this season that Guhle is "confident in the right way," and that people he talked to considered Guhle to be captain material for this tournament. Rob Rampage, Montreal's director of player development, noted that Guhle's leadership and maturity stood out to him, especially with Guhle being a captain of the Prince Albert Raiders at just 18.
Guhle was moved from Prince Albert to the Edmonton Oil Kings just days before leaving for Canada's camp, allowing him to play close to his friends and family from Sherwood Park, Alberta. Guhle had a rocket of a start, recording three points in three games from the point before he and new teammates Neighbours, Dylan Guenther and Sebastian Cossa made the short trek to Calgary for selection camp. All four of them made the team and are expected to play key roles.
Guhle has a good foundation to work with, having an older brother and current NHLer Brendan Guhle to lean on for advice. For a physical defender, Guhle is a tremendous skater, and his puck-moving decisions have seemingly improved over the past year. Guhle got a brief three-game stint with the AHL's Laval Rocket last year and looked confident and, at points, ready to play against pros on a more consistent basis. Guhle is still raw as a prospect, but at a point in his development where he's shaping up to be a pretty solid top-four option for Montreal, a team that's in the midst of a changing of the guard on the blueline.
The 'C' is a special thing for Guhle, but the only thing he cares about is bringing him gold. He remembers the pain of losing gold to the United States after Canada went on an absolute tear all the way to the final. There's a lot of pressure captaining Canada in an international event, especially at home. That's a lot for a young teenager to have to deal with, but it's something that Canada's coaching staff feels confident Guhle can handle.
Guhle is ready for the challenge, and nothing is going to get in the way of his chase for the coveted hardware.