Sure, expectations for the 2021-22 Arizona Coyotes remain tempered, considering the team is deep in the throes of another rebuild. General Manager Bill Armstrong has been very busy this offseason, and though there’s still much to be evaluated through camp before the final roster can take shape, the team has gotten a good look at all of its potential rookies, both in development camp, and most recently the Rookie Faceoff Tournament.
Some things were predictable in nature — phenom Dylan Guenther lighting the lamp three times in two games, for example — but other aspects, such as some of the ‘veteran’ rookies who have stepped up into a leadership role these past few weeks, have been nothing short of impressive.
Combined, those ingredients have made for a wildly successful rookie development phase that all of the teams in the Coyotes’ organization will benefit from, and gives fans plenty to look forward to in the coming years.
Dylan Guenther Wastes No Time Lighting the Lamp
Well, this surprised absolutely no one.
Guenther has exploded onto the scene in the Arizona Rookie Faceoff Tournament, notching three goals in the tournament’s first two games. He scored twice in the team’s first game against the Vegas Golden Knights before notching the team’s only goal against the Los Angeles Kings in the very next game.
None were prettier than this one, where his pure goal-scoring ability was on display for the world to see. In the blink of an eye, Guenther wristed one top shelf, obliterating the water bottle in the process.
Yes, this is just a rookie tournament, and he’s yet to square off against the league’s top NHL talent. But this glimpse into the future of the Coyotes is something that has fans excited now, and for good reason.
“He’s a goal scorer,” said Tucson Roadrunners assistant coach John Slaney. “When he does have the puck, he’s got good poise, and he’s got great vision.”
That shouldn’t come as news to anyone who’s been paying attention to the 18-year-old winger, as he’s found the back of the net in every league that he’s participated in. Guenther won gold with Team Canada in the 2020-21 U18 World Junior Championships, where he notched seven points in as many games. Just one season earlier, in 2019-20, he earned the Western Hockey League’s Jim Piggott Trophy as rookie of the year after he put up 59 points on 26 goals and 33 assists, in just 58 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Yeah, the kid can play.
It’s obviously very early in his development, but if Guenther continues to impress, there’s a good chance fans will see him wearing a Kachina sweater in The Valley sooner, rather than later.
Ty Emberson & Cameron Crotty Lead By Example
Guenther has commanded the majority of the attention, understandably so considering he was Arizona’s ninth-overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, but his level of comfort on a grander stage is amplified because of the support received from some of the ‘veteran’ rookies at camp. A few players Slaney called out specifically by name include defensemen Ty Emberson and Cameron Crotty.
“We just see what those guys are going to do, and from day one, both of those guys stepped up real well and took leadership [roles],” Slaney said “That’s what Cam did in the second half for us in Tucson, and that’s part of his culture from what he had in his college days.”
Crotty, a 22-year-old third-round pick in the 2017 entry draft, played 32 games with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Roadrunners last season, and recorded four points in 32 games. He was an alternate captain at Boston University for the 2019-20 season.
Emberson, a 21-year-old third-round pick from the 2018 entry draft, was the captain for the University of Wisconsin last season before joining the Roadrunners for five regular season games last year, in which he recorded one goal. He’s a defensive-defenseman, and isn’t afraid to deliver a hit to the opposition, something he’s done multiple times over the first two games of the tournament.
“He’s a defensive guy that is going to have to bring the physical game to his side, but at the same time it’s important he understands how fast we have to get pucks out of our zone,” Slaney said. “He did a really good job for us [in Tucson] at the end of last year, advancing the puck quite a bit.”
As he’s advanced through various hockey leagues, the game has sped up considerably for the American defenseman, but he’s continued to try and instill the same values and work ethic that he’s seen ahead of him. It’s been effective to this point, and he prides himself in helping the other first-timers the way he was once helped.
He credits his brief stint with the Roadrunners last season, as well as his time at the University of Wisconsin, for helping him feel ready to step up. That’s in addition to him having already gone through the motions previously in these kinds of camps.
“I think I’ve been a natural leader all my life, I kind of lead by example,” Emberson said after Sunday’s tournament game. “It’s about eating right, taking care of your body, and making sure that you’re listening to drills so you know what’s going on before you even step on the ice.”
His ability to step up and make his presence felt has been a positive influence, too.
“I’ve always liked that aspect of the game,” Emberson said. “Obviously I’m not going to go out there and toe-drag anyone, but I look to keep the puck out of our own net, and to be a physical presence.”
The Future Is Distant, But Bright
The past few weeks of rookie camps have certainly been encouraging for fans, even if the realization that a championship-caliber team remains years away lurks in the back of peoples’ minds. The foundation, though, is already starting off on strong footing, and Slaney has already noted the difference that the leaders bring on a nightly basis.
They conduct themselves properly, and do all of the little things needed to set an example for everyone else.
“They’re small details, but they’re important details,” he said. “If [those aren’t present], you’re going to spend all night in your own zone.”
Between the veteran presence on these rookie squads, and the influx of high-end talent already showing itself within the organization, one thing’s clear: Fans have plenty to be optimistic about.
“All these kids are young coming in, there’s a lot of excitement for these guys in this organization,” Slaney said. “It’s a bright future for the Coyotes right now.”
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.