It has been a tough season for the Montreal Canadiens defenceman. Injuries have plagued the lineup for forwards and the back end. However, even in the absences of key veterans, the younger guys have stepped up. It is great to see and shows glimmers of light towards the future for the Montreal.
Young Defenceman Stepping Up For Montreal
At the quarter-point in the season, the Habs are hovering around .500. After finishing 28th in the league last season, and dead last the year before, even being on the playoff bubble in December is reason for optimism. Another reason is the way the young D has been stepping up for Montreal- most notably Kaiden Guhle and Justin Barron.
The first Canadiens defenceman to step up is Guhle. Still just 21 years old, Guhle is one of the youngest top-four defencemen in the NHL. The 2020 first-round pick was known as a physical, smart player coming out of the WHL, as well as an above-average skater. Since David Savard‘s injury, Guhle has picked up a lot of his ice time, including on the penalty kill. At over 21:00 per game, he’s become a dependable presence on the blue line. Only Mike Matheson sees more minutes in Montreal. He’s also chipped in eight points (2G, 6A) in 19 games this season.
And Guhle is not one to shy away from physicality. He’s listed at 6’3″ and 201 pounds, and at his age he could easily put on another 10-15 pounds in the next few years. Check out this open-ice hit on Dylan Cozens from last season:
And my personal favorite Guhle highlight thus far:
Again: Guhle won’t be 22 until January. The vast majority of defensemen his age are still in the NCAA or the AHL.
Another young Canadiens defenceman stepping up is Justin Barron. The Habs acquired Barron and a second-round pick from the Avalanche in March of 2022, with Artturi Lehkonen going the other way. (Montreal also retained some of Lekhonen’s salary). Colorado drafted Barron in the first round in 2020, nine picks after Montreal took Guhle. The Halifax native played for his hometown Mooseheads in the QMJHL from 2017-2021.
Barron is definitely trending toward being an offensive defenceman. In his best QMJHL season, he scored 41 points (9G, 32A) in 68 games. To start that season, he was still just 17 years old. And it looks like he’s starting to find that aspect of his game at the NHL level now, too. Already Barron has five goals for the Habs, along with three assists. Through 67 games with Montreal and Colorado, Barron has 34 points, or almost exactly half a point per game. For a defenseman who just turned 22, and is also playing very well defensively, that’s more than respectable.
Look at this cross-ice pass:
And while Barron doesn’t see a lot of time on the penalty kill, he picks his spot beautifully here:
Barron has a good sense of what his game is and what his strengths are.
“It’s one of those things that I’ve always had in my game, and it’s something I pride my game on,” he told Sportsnet.ca last month. “When I’m at my best, I’m making simple, quick plays and hopefully getting the puck out of our zone. I’m not necessarily leading the rush all the time, but I’m trying to make that first pass and then jump into space.”
The Future Is Bright
Montreal’s bright future on the blue line starts with Guhle and Barron, but it doesn’t end there. Arber Xhekaj, Jordan Harris, and Jayden Struble are all 22 and 23 as well. Veteran Mike Matheson, still only 29 himself, is a perfect leader for the group alongside David Savard. With the young D stepping up in Montreal, and Lane Hutson setting the NCAA on fire, this should be a solid, dependable group for the next several years.
Main Photo: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports