Kaiden Guhle's injury opens door for Canadiens' Justin Barron

Montreal’s seventh defenceman appears likely to play his first game of the season Saturday night against the Capitals at the Bell Centre.

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It appears Kaiden Guhle and Justin Barron will forever be inextricably linked.

The two were defence partners at the 2021 world junior championship, when Canada won a silver medal. Both were first-round draft choices in 2020; Guhle selected 16th overall, nine picks before Barron was taken by Colorado.

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And now, thanks to an injury to Guhle, Barron could make his regular-season debut Saturday night, when Montreal completes a three-game homestand against Washington.

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Guhle is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury, the Canadiens announced on Thursday. The 21-year-old didn’t return for the third period of Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to Minnesota. Guhle missed the final month last season with a high-ankle sprain and was limited to 44 games. He has one assist this season while teaming with Johnathan Kovacevic.

The Canadiens could still elect to recall defenceman Mattias Norlinder — who arguably performed better than Barron throughout training camp and exhibition games — from their Laval AHL affiliate. But for now it appears the 6-foot-2, 202-pound Barron will dress.

“I don’t think you ever want to see one of your teammates get injured,” Barron said Thursday, following the team’s 60-minute practice at the CN Sports Complex in Brossard. “He (Guhle) has had some tough luck the last little while. Hopefully he can get back healthy. I’d love the chance to get to play with him again as D-partners.

“Once I get in the lineup it’s up to me to show what I can do,” the 21-year-old Halifax native added.

Barron, who played junior in the QMJHL for his hometown Mooseheads, is still attempting to discover himself at the NHL level. He only played two games for the Avalanche before his March 2022 trade to the Canadiens for Artturi Lehkonen. Montreal also received a 2024 second-round draft choice in the deal.

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But Barron struggled at training camp the following season and was assigned to the Rocket, a demotion he admitted at the time was initially difficult to process. Barron overcame his disappointment and might have been Laval’s best defenceman before being recalled on Dec. 27, after producing seven goals and 16 points in 25 games.

In 39 games with Montreal following his promotion, Barron scored four goals and 15 points while averaging 16:18 of ice time. He had one power-play, one short-handed and one game-winning goal.

Barron said he wasn’t surprised to start the season as a healthy scratch while the Canadiens went 1-1-1. “I was happy with my camp and felt like I had a good camp,” he said. “That’s the roster that they wanted to start the season with. We’ve got a young back-end with a lot of good players.

“It was just a matter of waiting to get into the lineup and trying to take advantage of that opportunity. I’d much rather start the year here than last year in Laval. It’s only been three games and it’s a long season. I feel ready to go. I’ve had some good skates the last week and a half. If I’m in I’m excited and ready to play.”

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Stéphane Robidas, who coaches Montreal’s defencemen, has told Barron to be sound in his own zone, tough to play against and trustworthy in different situations. Barron already possesses good size and is an excellent skater.

“He hasn’t played until now because we feel comfortable with the six in front of him,” head coach Martin St. Louis said. “Maybe he’ll get a chance to play now. Players like JB, they’ve just got to stay ready. Are you going in because of the performance of guys in front of you aren’t up to par? Are you going in because guys in front of you got hurt? Are you going in because we can’t keep you sitting down? There’s different things. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. He’s got to be ready.”

Guhle’s injury, combined with Kirby Dach’s season-ending torn ligaments, leaves the Canadiens with only 21 available players, including third-string goaltender Cayden Primeau.

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