Top 5 Canadiens prospects: All eyes on Canadian WJC captain Guhle

Kaiden Guhle skates during a practice at the Canadian World Junior Hockey Championships selection camp in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

We don’t blame Montreal Canadiens fans for celebrating Kaiden Guhle’s nomination as captain of Team Canada’s world junior team like it was a playoff win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The current Canadiens haven’t given them much to cheer about this season, but there’s plenty of hope Guhle and the future Canadiens will give fans many reasons to smile moving forward.

We’ve been tied up with the 7-21-3 Canadiens, but director of player development Rob Ramage has been following the organization’s top prospects.

Ramage took some time out of his busy schedule to update us on where they stand in their development, and he shared some insight on what he believes will get them to the next level.

Stream over 1,000 games blackout-free, including the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with a subscription to SN NOW PREMIUM.

Kaiden Guhle, 19, LD, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

GP: 20 │ G: 3 │ A: 15 │ PTS: 18

Guhle got off to a fantastic start with the Prince Albert Raiders before being traded to the Oil Kings on Dec. 1.

But Ramage said Guhle’s progress, after an injury-plagued 2020-21 season, had a lot to do with his limited professional experience over the last year.

“He got to spend some time in Laval, which I think was really, really good,” Ramage said. “Very beneficial for him just to be around that atmosphere. I think he won two games and then hurt his wrist and had surgery and was shut down for the rest of the season.

“Prior to that, there was his world junior experience, and I thought he played well. First time, one of the younger guys, and he was great.

“Had a good rookie camp this year. Obviously, we kept him around, he played exhibition games—he was there the longest of our young guys.”

What stands out most?

“Pro habits,” said Ramage. “Even when he’s playing junior, he carries himself and he plays and he leads like a pro. So much to like about his game, about him as a person and his personality and his character. So, it’s just about him continuing to progress.

“Whether he’s captain or not, he’s experienced and he’s been through it. That’s just his nature, too. He has a presence about him already. Having said that, you never stop learning. You never stop progressing and getting better. That doesn’t even have to be said to him; he knows it, that’s engrained in his thought process and his DNA.”

What element gets him to the next level?

“There’s a number of them,” said Ramage. “He’s a defenceman and he defends well. I know we’ve got puck-movers and tremendously gifted defencemen coming into the league and everything else, but I’ll revert back to what was said to me when I got traded to the St. Louis Blues from the Colorado Rockies. I had played four years pro already and Barclay Plager, who was my D coach in Saint Louis — I had some good numbers offensively but also some big ones in the minus department — he said to me, ‘Ram, you’ve gotta defend first. You’ve got to be able to defend. That will keep you in the game a lot longer when the offence fizzles out.’”

“Kaiden defends well. As a defenceman, if you don’t defend well, you’re not going to get on the ice at the next level. Coaches want defencemen they can trust and that are consistent in defending, and he does that. You can tell he takes pride in defending.”

Jordan Harris, 21, LD, Northeastern University (NCAA)

GP: 18 │ G: 2 │ A: 9 │ PTS: 11

The 71st overall pick in 2018 is Montreal’s most NHL-ready prospect currently outside of professional hockey.

The Canadiens offered him a contract last spring, but he chose to remain in college to complete his degree and his senior year as captain of the Huskies.

There’s plenty of concern in the fan base Harris will opt to sign somewhere else, as he can choose to sign with any NHL team once his season is complete, but there’s still hope he puts pen to paper with the Canadiens.

Ramage would love to see it happen.

“This guy was pretty good as a freshman and has just gotten better,” he said. “He’s stepped into more of a leadership role. He’s captain there, leads the team in ice time, plays in all situations. I think his decision-making has only continued to improve, not that it was ever bad. His game has matured.

“And he has a plan when he’s out there. You can tell, he has a plan. On puck retrievals, he’s not going back there and winging it. He’s got a plan, and that’s the development of the thought process you’d like to see with young defencemen. You can’t just rely on your skill, you have to have an idea of what’s going to happen before it happens. His all-around game has continued to progress to a new level.”

What brings him to the next level?

“Skating. He’s got great feet,” said Ramage. “I love watching his feet. He’s a very good skater, obviously. His mobility and agility, from a guy that probably related more to a Clydesdale, impress me. Watching him dance on his skates is fun.”

Sean Farrell, 20, C/LW, Harvard University (NCAA)

GP: 11 │ G: 6 │ A: 8 │ PTS: 14

If it felt like the Canadiens got a steal with the 124th pick in 2020, that’s only been reinforced since.

Farrell, who led the USHL with 101 points last season, is off to an impressive start at Harvard. And Ramage has watched him blossom into one of Montreal’s most promising prospects from up close.

“With Covid last year, I couldn’t come across the border and most of the guys weren’t playing, so I got to see Sean quite a bit. Cole Caufield would be playing with Wisconsin Friday and Saturday in Madison, and then Sunday I’d zip over to Chicago to watch Sean play an afternoon game. I got to do that a number of times last year, and he had a great season. He led the league in points. A lot of times that might be his third game in two-and-a-half days, and this guy was just really good.

“He put up numbers, but he was a 200-foot player. Tenacious. Killed penalties, played in all situations. It wasn’t just the offence. You look at those numbers and think, ‘Oh, this is an offensive guy,’ but he’s more than that. He’s a really smart hockey player.

“And he’s good buddies with Cole Caufield. They were at the (US national) program together. I remember texting Cole to tell him Sean had a hat trick by the middle of the second period of a game and he was like, ‘I know, I’m watching.”

“I was into Boston earlier this season, got to see him play against Dartmouth, and he was really good. He was one of the better forwards on Harvard, logged a lot of ice, and it seemed to be a pretty seamless transition for him to college from the USHL. He’s smart. He’s a smart young man. Hockey IQ is very good, and just has a nice tenacity about him to complement his skill set.”

How much will that tenacity help him get bigger and stronger to get to the next level?

“Well, let’s start with he’s going to Harvard,” said Ramage. “He’s pretty smart and he understands what he needs to do. He’s not a big guy, and given his age, he’s not fully at his peak as far as strength and conditioning is concerned. I mean, he’s in good shape, but now there’s the pro level. I don’t see any concern with that as far as his work ethic is concerned. It’s engrained in him.”

Jan Mysak, 19, C, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)

GP: 25 │ G: 17 │ A: 14 │ PTS: 31

In 22 games with the AHL’s Laval Rocket last season, Mysak showed just how mature of a player he already is.

There was strong consideration to having him remain with the Rocket this season, after an exception was made for players in his category. But the decision was made to have him play a more prominent role with his junior team so that he could develop more of his offensive game.

“Very mature player,” remarked Ramage. “Just saw him two weeks ago. I was in Hamilton. It was funny… He didn’t know, I went in on a stealth, which I do sometimes where I don’t tell them I’m coming. Friday night game and the team had a poor game and Jan was just OK. He played hard, but nothing happened for him. I saw him the next day and he says, ‘Were you here last night,’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ You could just see the disappointment in his face, and I was like, ‘Hey, every game is not going to be great. Your effort was there, it just wasn’t happening.’

“We had a great chat, and he’s a sponge. He’s so serious about his game and just wants to get better. The next day, he was first star of the game and had a goal and an assist. He bounced back, and you love to see that.

“Pro habits with him. That’s what he has already. And that was the benefit of being in Laval last year and being around on a daily basis. It’s been good. He’s had a good season in Hamilton, he wears an ‘A’ and taken on a leadership role. Constantly wants to learn, student of the game, and just a real solid young man.

What kind of player is he?

“He’s putting up numbers this year, but he’s responsible,” said Ramage. “We talk about how you can get away with things in junior as an older player playing against some younger guys, and you can cheat and put up bigger numbers. But he knew, in getting a taste for pro hockey last year, what he needed to carry over. He doesn’t cheat. He plays a 200-foot game. He’s as responsible defensively as he is determined offensively. As far as where he’s going to be, the offence has come this year and it’s nice to see. That was one of the benefits of having go back to junior instead of playing in the American League.

“I don’t want to pigeonhole him in terms of saying he’s a first-, second- or third-line guy. To tell you the truth, he’s still evolving, and this year’s given him the opportunity to blossom offensively.”

Logan Mailloux, 18, RD, London Knights (OHL)

Neither Ramage nor Mailloux’s representatives could share what specific criteria the 31st overall pick in 2021 needs to meet in order to be reinstated by the OHL and have a suspension that’s kept him out of every game the Knights have played this season lifted.

But both parties assured us Mailloux has done everything asked of him, and they’re hopeful that when the case gets made on Jan. 1, it’ll lead to him resuming his hockey career.

Mailloux has been in counseling since returning to North America following getting charged in Sweden for violating the privacy of a young woman by sharing a picture of the two of them engaged in a consensual sexual activity. In addition to his virtual learning to complete his high school diploma, he’s been mandated to receive an education on respect.

Mailloux has been working closely with the Canadiens, the Knights and his representatives to evolve and earn a second chance, and here’s what Ramage could share with us about that process.

“Logan has put his head down and gone to work in everything that’s been asked of him through this period of penance, rehabilitation and enlightenment,” said Ramage. “And he’s done it with a really good attitude. There’s no woe is me.

“I’ve been impressed with his attitude, and he’s embraced this process as something productive and something that’s going to help him deal with things in life moving forward. He’s worked hard.

“They run a pro-level organization in London as far as responsibilities for kids. The Hunters are really, really good, but they’re also taskmasters. That’s been good for Logan. He’s doing what needs to be done to hopefully get back playing for the London Knights in the OHL. That’s where he hopes to play, where he should play.”

Ramage was asked if he had examples of what Logan has been doing to work on himself.

“I think that kind of stuff will be talked about by Logan when the time is right.

“Maybe this seems like not a big deal, but he’s not permitted to attend school with his teammates and he still gets up every morning and picks up four of them and takes them to school. He drops them off and then he goes and studies virtually in an office. He does it without complaint because he’s a good teammate.

“I think that’s a good character trait.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.