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2020 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: #8 Kaiden Guhle – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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Kaiden Guhle would never have slid past the Montreal Canadiens’s 16th overall pick at the 2020 NHL Draft. The prospect is simply too great a match. He embodies the values of the organization, how they want their players to conduct themselves on and off the ice surface, and — like Marc Bergevin often says — plays a position where you can never have too much depth.

With Guhle’s pick, the Habs stacked their defence with players who could handle a large amount of minutes in the future. The defenceman played upwards of half the games with the Prince Albert Raiders last season and it’s a safe bet that, whenever the WHL restarts, his responsibilities will only increase, which will also help his production.

Elite Prospects

Guhle scored 40 points last season for the Raiders, a respectable total for a draft-year defenceman. As his physical development continues, the Junior game will only get easier and easier for him. Hopefully he expands his offensive capabilities and flirts with the league scoring lead for defencemen in the next couple of years.

Voting

Eight voters and the EOTP community placed Guhle in their top 10.

You could expect a high first-round pick to debut even higher on the board, but due to the amount of great young talents the organization amassed, the prospect plateaued at eighth. To climb past some of the exciting names ahead of him, Guhle will have to further prove himself.

I’m a little more optimistic when it comes to the 2020 first-rounder. His upside and the many pro-like elements of his game had me confidently sliding him up the list.

History of #8

Year #8
Year #8
2019 Artturi Lehkonen
2018 Nikita Scherbak
2017 Juulsen/Scherbak (T-7)
2016 Charles Hudon
2015 Sven Andrighetto
2014 Sven Andrighetto
2013 Sebastian Collberg
2012 Jarred Tinordi
2011 Yannick Weber
2010 Alexander Avtsin

Strengths

Guhle is one of the best skaters of the 2020 draft class. In time, his speed, acceleration, and agility will enable him to stop NHLers just like he stops Junior players, especially considering that his inescapable mobility is complemented by suffocating range.

The defenceman’s pure tools made him one of the better rush-defenders in Mitch Brown’s tracking project. Attackers seldom used his side of the ice to attack, and when they did, they quickly regretted it. He immediately swatted the puck away from their blades with long-range pokechecks or laid them to the ice with thunderous hits.

If the attackers managed to pick up a bit more speed against him, well they just delayed the inevitable; Guhle backed off a bit more, forming a wall at his blue-line, forcing them to dump the puck around him. In-zone, Guhle continues to bully. He plays the initiator role, jumping on puck-carriers and pinning them to the boards to allow one of his forwards to sweep in and take possession.

From Mitch Brown’s tracking project

His effectiveness doesn’t come only from brute force, but refined technique: shuffle-steps to match the attacker’s speed, angling techniques to close down space and passing lanes, and the use of pressure points to keep them glued to the walls. Guhle’s low and athletic position gives him leverage against opponents. He applies his weight to their hips and prevents any escape.

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Offensively, the defenceman scores by activating in two ways: off the rush for shots at the top of the circles and in the offensive zone for backdoor plays. In the recent Team Canada camp scrimmages, there was also more conscious effort on his part to sidestep defenders and improve the location of his shots. He picked up an assist by dragging the puck slightly to the middle before stepping wide to fire past an opponent. A forward picked up the rebound and put in an empty net.

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Weaknesses

I used to question Guhle’s stick-handling abilities, but after more viewings, the mechanics of it are relatively fine — at least NHL-average. He dribbles with the heel of his blade and rolls the puck with his top-hand (he doesn’t hack at it like many other defence-first blue-liners). His upper body is stable as he skates up-ice, so even if his shuffling movements aren’t as precise and quick as a Mattias Norlinder, the puck rarely springs off his blade when he executes difficult manoeuvres.

In other words, I have no doubt that Guhle can master the technical aspects of the offensive game. To start making use of his techniques and become at least a middle-of-the-pack offensive threat from the back-end, however, a couple of aspects of his game will need to be reinforced.

The first is awareness. Guhle simply doesn’t take in information at a high enough rate. When the puck moves to his side of the ice, he doesn’t know what lanes are open. As a result, he loses a precious second scanning the ice after getting possession, enough time for the opposing defence to move and counter his potential plays.

This is the biggest reason why Guhle resorts to so many uncontrolled plays: dumps, rims, and chip-outs. (Although Mitch Brown’s data above suggests that this problem may be overstated since the defenceman doesn’t make many controlled exits per 60 minutes, he attempts more controlled plays than uncontrolled ones. He also succeeds in making those controlled plays more often than not.)

The second element to improve is simply confidence. He was too skittish in the first two scrimmages with Team Canada. Of course, Guhle hadn’t played in a competitive game in nine months and he is one of the younger players at the camp. That being said, even considering those factors, he deferred to others too much, which affected the quality of his line’s possessions. He passed to teammates already under heavy forechecking pressure and forced them to dig pucks from the wall and come back defensively in a hurry after turnovers.

Guhle needs to expand his comfort zone, and for that he needs to try plays, even if it means a low success rate at first. Team Canada’s camp is maybe not the best setting for it as he is competing for a spot and trying to limit mistakes, but I hope to see him figure out the limits of his abilities when the WHL starts.

Once he becomes more aware and confident, new developmental paths will open up for him, like offensive manipulation, something he barely does currently.

Projection

Alexander Romanov, a defenceman whose standout attribute is an aggressive defensive game, is penciled in the top four of future Canadiens teams. Romanov may not bring much offence to the lineup, yet the organization and the fanbase alike value him as a key prospect regardless.

In his draft year, Romanov lacked the awareness and control that now make him the deadly shutdown presence that he is. His play with the puck? Very limited. The defenceman’s most common breakout tactic was rimming the disc blindly up the boards with the hope that one of his wingers stood ready to catch it. In the offensive zone, he simply smashed every pass on net with little forethought.

Sound familiar?

Guhle isn’t Romanov. He is actually a better prospect than Romanov was in his draft year, and maybe even in 2018-19.

Guhle skates with the same agility, but he is 6’3”. He plays the same physical brand of defence, but he is 25 pounds heavier, which will give him the leverage necessary to pin and drop many NHL forwards, too.

All in all, the disappointment over some of the prospects not selected by Montreal, notably Dawson Mercer, seems to have distorted the perception of Guhle for many.

Unfulfilled draft expectations shouldn’t weigh down the defenceman. He is a part of the organization now, has top-four potential, and a better chance of reaching that role than all of the other defensive prospects ranked on this list the day they were drafted by the Canadiens.

So don’t be surprised if Guhle makes Team Canada’s roster for the World Junior Championship in a defensive role, and then the following year leverages his above-average skating ability to develops into a puck-mover, earning a roster spot with Montreal in 2022.

Guhle has taught hard lessons to those who underestimate him. If you don’t closely monitor his progress, you might get stunned by how rapidly he emerges.

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Canada to play 2 more home World Cup qualifiers in U.S.

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As Canada continues to wrestle with the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s national soccer team will play two more of its home World Cup qualifying matches south of the border in June.

Canada will face Aruba in Bradenton, Fla., on June 5, and will take on Suriname in suburban Chicago on June 8, Canada Soccer confirmed Monday.

The games are Canada‘s last two of four matches in CONCACAF Group B. A March 26 Canadian home match against Bermuda was held in Orlando, Fla., which Canada won 5-1. Also, the Caymen Islands were the host team on March 29, when Canada rolled, 11-0.

Only one national team advances to the next round, and Canada and Suriname top the group and the game against Suriname in Bridgeview, Ill., figures to be the deciding match in both teams’ efforts to advance.

Thirty nations from Central and North America are competing in this first round with six group winners advancing to a second round of head-to-head knockout matches for the right to compete in the CONCACAF final round of eight teams competing for four places in the 2022 World Cup. A fifth team from CONCACAF advances to an intercontinental play-in round.

As was executed in Orlando, the match in Chicago will be staged in accordance with the FIFA International Match Protocols supported by the relevant public health requirements.

“We had hoped to play these matches at home with Canadian fans providing the support and momentum to play a tough nation like Suriname in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers,” said John Herdman, coach of the Canadian men’s national team. “The reality of the global pandemic and the priority to keep our communities in Canada safe means the match will be played at a neutral site in Chicago with no home advantage, but we will embrace that challenge.

“Whatever comes at us, we will take it on and do whatever we need to do to advance to the next round.”

-Field Level Media

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Berrettini hopes Madrid ATP 1000 final was the first of many

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Matteo Berrettini came up short in his maiden ATP Masters 1000 final on Sunday but the Italian said his performances in Madrid have given him belief he deserves to be competing for top-level titles against the best players in men’s tennis.

German Alexander Zverev, who defeated claycourt specialists Rafa Nadal and Dominic Thiem en route to the final, lost his only set at this year’s tournament to the 25-year-old before rallying for a 6-7(8) 6-4 6-3 win.

The defeat ended the hard-hitting Italian’s eight-match winning streak on clay after he won the ATP 250 event in Belgrade last month.

“I really worked hard to be here. Now that I’m here, I’m upset I lost,” the world number nine told reporters. “It’s important for my tennis, for my level. Sascha won, not easily, but in two sets against Thiem and Rafa, and today (he) was struggling against me.

“This is definitely a good feeling and something that I have to use, to build (on) in my next tournaments. It hurts now, but I know this loss is going to be useful.”

Berrettini said he had his chances against world number six Zverev and he was brimming with confidence going into this week’s ATP Masters event in Rome and the French Open starting at the end of the month.

“I know and I feel that I can play this kind of tennis, this kind of level. I deserve to be here,” he said.

“When I play and I use my weapons in the right way, all the players are struggling. This is something that makes me confident for the future.

“Once I’m healthy, I can reach my level, my best level. I think this week just showed that I can play this level. This was my first final. Hopefully it’s not going to be my last.”

 

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Peter Rutherford)

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Anthony Davis drops 42 in Lakers win

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Anthony Davis had 42 points and 12 rebounds and the Los Angeles Lakers made 13 shots from 3-point range to overwhelm the Phoenix Suns in a 123-110 win on Sunday night in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles avoided the three-game season sweep by Phoenix and remained one game behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference standings with four games left. The top six teams avoid the play-in tournament to reach the playoffs.

Los Angeles, which lost eight of its previous 10 games, was without LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma and Dennis Schroder. After being out six weeks because of an ankle injury, James has missed the last four games with the same injury.

Devin Booker finished with 21 points for the Suns, but he made only 5 of 14 shots from the field and missed his only 3-point attempt. Chris Paul had 13 points and 10 assists.

Heat 130, Celtics 124

Jimmy Butler finished strong with 22 of his 26 points in the second half as Miami strengthened its hold on the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference with a win over host Boston.

Despite Butler having only four points at halftime, the Heat managed to build a 26-point lead to help hold off Boston’s fourth-quarter push. Butler also contributed 11 assists and eight rebounds.

Duncan Robinson scored 22 points, Bam Adebayo added 20 and Trevor Ariza scored all but two of his 19 points in the first half for the Heat.

Timberwolves 128, Magic 96

Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell each had 27 points to lead Minnesota to a blowout win, marking just the second time the Timberwolves have won in its previous 12 games in Orlando.

The Timberwolves snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 7-5 over their past 12 games. The Magic dropped their third in a row in their home finale and went 11-25 in Orlando this season.

It was an emotional Mother’s Day victory for Towns, Minnesota’s two-time All-Star, who lost his mother to COVID-19 last year. Towns, who also had nine rebounds and four assists, helped jump-start the Timberwolves as they used an early run to overwhelm the Magic and outscore them 74-44 by halftime.

Knicks 106, Clippers 100

Derrick Rose contributed 25 points and eight assists off the bench and Reggie Bullock finished with 24 points on 5-for-12 shooting from behind the arc as visiting New York defeated Los Angeles.

RJ Barrett added 18 points and seven rebounds and Julius Randle chipped in 14 points and 14 rebounds. Kawhi Leonard topped the Clippers with 29 points but struggled finding his shooting stroke, finishing 9-for-26 (34.6 percent) from the field.

With the win, New York remained the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Clippers maintained their grip on the No. 3 seed in the West despite the loss.

Pelicans 112, Hornets 110

Eric Bledsoe scored 24 points as New Orleans pulled out a tight game over host Charlotte, keeping its slim playoff hopes alive while putting the Hornets’ on hold.

Jaxson Hayes of the Pelicans scored the only two field goals in the last 1:50 for either team before a 3-pointer from Charlotte’s Terry Rozier in the last second accounted for the final score. Rozier finished with 43 points, including 24 in the first half.

The Pelicans went ahead at 109-107 on Hayes’ alley-oop layup on a pass from Lonzo Ball. With 1:29 remaining, Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball missed two foul shots, allowing the Pelicans to retain their lead. Hayes soon scored again on a hook shot off a pass from Nickeil Alexander-Walker, making it a four-point New Orleans lead with just 12.7 seconds remaining and putting it away for good.

Bulls 108, Pistons 96

Nikola Vucevic recorded a double-double with 29 points and 16 rebounds and Zach LaVine added a game-high 30 points as Chicago beat host Detroit.

Chicago used a strong defensive effort to keep alive its slim prospects of making the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, moving to 2.5 games behind Indiana with four games left in the Bulls’ regular season.

The Bulls held Detroit — playing without season leading scorer Jerami Grant on the second leg of a weekend back-to-back — to just 39 first-half points and 36-of-78 shooting from the floor for the game.

Kings 126, Thunder 98

Maurice Harkless and Terence Davis scored 18 points each to lead Sacramento to a home win over Oklahoma City.

The Kings kept their faint hopes of making the play-in tournament alive with the win, their fifth in six games. Sacramento is 2 1/2 games behind San Antonio for 10th in the Western Conference with four games to play.

The Kings had eight players score in double figures, including 15 each by Richaun Holmes and Delon Wright. Darius Bazley led Oklahoma City with 18 points while Jaylen Hoard had a career-high 16.

Mavericks 124, Cavaliers 97

Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 25 points while hitting on 7 of his 11 3-point shots as surging Dallas defeated host Cleveland in the second game of a home-and-home set between the two teams.

The Mavericks won for the fourth straight game and are a season-best 12 games over .500. Dallas remained in fifth place in the Western Conference, moving a game in front of idle Portland in the standings with four games to play.

Josh Richardson added 20 points for the Mavericks, and Luka Doncic scored 15 before being ejected early in the third quarter. Collin Sexton led Cleveland with 24 points while Mfiondu Kabengele hit for 14, Brodric Thomas scored 13 points and Isaac Okoro added 12.

 

–Field Level Media

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