Stu Cowan: Canadiens' Kaiden Guhle proud to be wearing No. 21

Hall of Famer Guy Carbonneau approves of young defenceman wearing the number he had while hoisting last Stanley Cup for Habs in 1993.

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Kaiden Guhle had a question for former captain Guy Carbonneau after the Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins 3-2 in overtime last Saturday at the Bell Centre and the defenceman was a guest on RDS’s L’Antichambre post-game show.

“Am I going to need to change my jersey number soon?” Guhle asked the Hall of Famer who is the last Canadiens’ captain to hoist the Stanley Cup in 1993.

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“You’re asking the wrong guy,” Carbonneau responded about the possibility of the Canadiens retiring No. 21 in the future. “I feel really privileged that you are wearing my number, so that’s OK. You can keep it on for a while.”

There’s a lot to like while watching Guhle wear No. 21. The number is also Guhle’s age, although when you watch him play it’s hard to believe he’s so young. He plays like a 10-year veteran and will have a very high ceiling as he continues to develop.

“To me, it’s his consistency,” head coach Martin St. Louis said when asked after Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Calgary Flames what impresses him most about Guhle. “You know what you’re getting out of him.”

Heading into Thursday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights, Guhle was averaging 19:59 of ice time with 1-5-6 totals in 12 games to go along with a team-best plus-7 differential. Guhle missed four games last month with a concussion and came very close to suffering a serious injury against Calgary when the left skate of the Flames’ Elias Lindholm came up and hit him in the face. Guhle’s visor saved him from being badly hurt and he only suffered a cut lip.

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“It didn’t really hurt that much,” Guhle said. “I was just kind of shocked and freaked out a little bit by the whole thing.”

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What made the incident even scarier is that it came less than two weeks after Adam Johnson died after his throat was cut by a skate blade while playing for the Nottingham Panthers during a game in England.

“You definitely think about that,” Guhle said. “Just lucky that nothing worse happened to me.”

The Canadiens can’t afford to lose Guhle, who missed 38 games last season because of injuries. The Edmonton native has a very bright future ahead of him if he can stay healthy. While Marc Bergevin was rightfully criticized for many of the draft picks he made during his 10 years as GM of the Canadiens, taking Guhle 16th overall in 2020 was a very smart decision.

“Size, skating, range, he has some offensive skills (and) he’s hard to play against,” Bergevin said after drafting Guhle. “He checks all the boxes for us.

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The maturity Guhle displays both on and off the ice is very impressive. He said he has felt comfortable and confident since making his NHL debut last season.

“It helps playing with good players,” he said. “I found coming here everyone’s in the right spots a lot of the time. Guys are smart … not that guys aren’t smart and good in lower levels. But it’s just a different level of hockey. At times you find it easier when you have the puck and guys are getting open and are in the right spots. Definitely has a lot to do with my teammates and how we play and the coaching staff, too. Letting the young guys play and not putting much pressure on us at all. If we make mistakes, it happens.”

Guhle is soft-spoken and thoughtful during interviews and comes across as just a really nice kid. But on the ice he has a real mean streak, which makes him tough to play against.

“It’s something I had to kind of develop through my last three years of junior,” he said. “I think it had a lot to do with my coaching staff and where I played in Prince Albert. It’s a hard-nosed town and you play in a building with 3,000 seats. They like the Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em kind of hockey and hard players. I think I can still get a little bit meaner at times. I think there’s times where maybe I let up still just because of the pace (in the NHL). It’s something I still want to develop in my game.”

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As for his No. 21, Guhle said he started wearing it in minor hockey because it was the number his older brother Brendan wore. Guhle also wore No. 21 both years he played for Team Canada at the world junior championship. He said it’s cool now to be wearing the same number Carbonneau did with the Canadiens.

“I wasn’t around when he was playing, but I’ve heard a lot of great things, not just on the ice but off the ice, and how big of an impact he had in the city,” Guhle said. “I’m definitely honoured and privileged to be wearing that number. Hopefully I can wear it for a little bit longer before it might get put in the rafters. It’s definitely an honour to be wearing that number.”

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