The Arizona Coyotes were approaching the 2021 NHL Entry Draft in quite a predicament, considering the suddenly-rebuilding club was without a first-round pick after league sanctions forced the team to forfeit this past year’s first-round selection. The forfeiture was a result of former GM John Chayka’s combine testing violations, and left the team reeling.
New GM Bill Armstrong inherited a beast of a project, and rather than sit back and wait for a 2022 first-rounder, he dealt team mainstays Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland to the Vancouver Canucks for a number of players and picks, the highlight of which was the No. 9 overall selection in the 2021 draft.
Shockingly, Dylan Guenther, the highly-touted winger out of Edmonton who was projected as a top-five player in some mock drafts, slipped down to the Coyotes, who pounced on the chance to draft the budding prospect. Nearly four months later the 18-year-old is back with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Edmonton Oil Kings, for his fourth season with the club.
His stellar performance in Edmonton this season, though hardly surprising, is building on a successful rookie development camp and NHL preseason, and has simultaneously given hockey fans in the desert plenty to look forward to during an otherwise-difficult season.
Guenther Posting Solid WHL Numbers for Third Straight Season
Guenther has shown fantastic hockey sense in his first few years with the Oil Kings, and to the surprise of almost no one, he’s scoring at more than a point-per-game clip for the third straight season. In 13 games this season, he’s logged 14 points on six goals and eight assists, and though impressive, it’s nothing new for the Canadian winger. Last season he notched 24 points (12G, 12A) in 12 games, and that followed his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2019-20, in which he potted 26 goals and 33 assists in 58 total games.
Needless to say, the kid can score.
After an action-packed summer that included the NHL draft, rookie development tournament, and even a few preseason games, it took Guenther a little time to adjust back to life at the Junior Hockey level.
“I think it took me a little while to adjust to the pace of play and get back into the junior mentality,” he recently told Junior Hockey Magazine. “Our last five games have been a lot better for us. Individually and as a team, I think we have taken big strides there.”
The Oil Kings’ alternate captain recently logged his 100th career WHL point, and has helped the Central Division leaders to a 9-3-1-1 record out of the gate this season.
Though he started the season posting modest numbers, Guenther has been on fire lately, posting 11 points in his last seven games, Including a three-point performance against the Brandon Wheat Kings on Oct. 22. He’s had four multi-point games to this point, and is gearing up to play for Team Canada in the 2021 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship which runs from Dec. 26 – Jan. 5.
He has fared well on the international circuit to this point of his career, most recently capturing gold with Team Canada in the U18 World Junior Championship during the 2020-21 season. In typical Guenther fashion he recorded seven points (4G, 3A) in seven games.
Camp & Preseason Performances Give Fans Plenty to Cheer For
Before he returned to Edmonton for the start of the WHL season, Guenther had the opportunity to show his skills in front of fans at Gila River Arena, first in the team’s Rookie Development Camp, followed by the Rookie Faceoff Tournament, and even got a look in a few preseason games.
For anyone who hadn’t noticed, Guenther announced his presence in the Rookie Faceoff Tournament, where nothing was safe, including goalies’ water bottles. He finished the tourney with three goals and one assist in three games before graduating to the NHL preseason, where he recorded two points (1G, 1A) in as many games before rejoining the Oil Kings. He recorded his goal in the Coyotes’ preseason opener against the Los Angeles Kings.
Funny enough, one of the smallest details in Guenther’s preseason debut left a lasting impression on the teenager.
“As I was going out for warm up, there were guys around me without helmets on and that was kind of an eye-opener for me,” Guenther said in the aforementioned interview. “I was super excited to play my first game, and it went really well.”
Sure, fans were disappointed to see him leave the desert after such a promising glimpse, but it was unquestionably the right decision to allow him the appropriate time to develop further. Even so, there’s no doubt his return to The Valley will be one of the organization’s most heavily anticipated moments — whenever that occurs.
Coyotes Well-Situated to Surround Him With Future Talent
What should excite Coyotes fans even more, however, is the team’s upcoming stockpile of draft picks. In the 2022 NHL Entry Draft alone, Arizona holds 12 selection, including three first-rounders (Montreal’s, Colorado’s, and their own), and five in the second round (Vancouver’s, Philadelphia’s, New York’s (Islanders), San Jose’s, and their own). As Guenther continues to develop in Edmonton, Armstrong will be busy putting the pieces together, and fans suffering through the painful rebuild will be able to see the GM’s plan start to come to fruition.
The Coyotes may be 1-10-1, but for any fans paying attention to the right areas, there’s still plenty to be excited about.
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.