Every year, there seems to be a prospect or two at the top of that year’s draft class whose main “thing” is scoring goals. In 2018, it was Andrei Svechnikov (second overall) and Filip Zadina (sixth). In 2019, it was Cole Caufield (15th). Last year, it was Alexander Holtz (seventh). In 2021, that prospect is Dylan Guenther.
Guenther and the rest of the Edmonton Oil Kings were the toast of the WHL this season as they earned an unbelievable 20-2-1 record. The winger’s contributions to his team’s success? 12 goals and 24 points through 12 games. Without question, that is the kind of production that you want to see from players that are ranked as highly as this player is (NHL Central Scouting has him ranked as the fifth-best North American skater; Bob McKenzie has him tied as the second-best prospect in the entire draft class.) Simply put: this kid is an offensive dynamo on a team that had a lot going for it this season.
Related: Red Wings 2021 Draft Coverage
Would the Detroit Red Wings be wise to draft this kid if given the opportunity? With the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, general manager Steve Yzerman and his scouting staff are hoping to maximize the value of that pick and land a player that has all-star potential. Adding a talent like that can dramatically alter the timeline of the Red Wings’ rebuild – but so can missing out on such a player. So what about Guenther? Does he have the goods to become a premier talent in the NHL?
The Kid Can Score
When you possess the kind of shot that Guenther has, chances are that you’re going to find the back of the net a fair amount over the course of a season. As a right-handed shot, he positions himself in “Ovechkin’s Office” on the power play and can absolutely rip one-timers home. It’s not just on set plays like that though; if he has a clean look at the net, he’s going to put a dangerous shot on the goaltender.
“Guenther’s creativity offensively makes him such a fun prospect, especially on the power play,” said Josh Frojelin, a member of the scouting team here at THW. “He can use his vision to quickly find a teammate, quick release to score or set up a rebound opportunity, or quick hands to finish in tight.”
A few of Guenther’s goals were a product of him placing himself in an opportune place to put home a rebound. His offensive IQ not only puts him in position to score goals like that, but it also allows him to find the areas of the ice where goals are scored – you can often find him either alone on one end, waiting for a one-timer opportunity, or in the slot as the prime shooting option. It’s not all about his shot though. He has the offensive play recognition to understand when one of his teammates are open, and he’s able to make good on that by hitting them with a clean pass, sometimes right through the middle of the ice. To this point, he showed exceptional chemistry with Oil Kings teammate and 2020 draftee of the St. Louis Blues, Jake Neighbours. Make no mistake: their chemistry is a big reason for the success of Edmonton as a team, and those two players as individuals.
What About Defense?
As far as two-way players are concerned, Guenther does not qualify in my opinion. As dynamic as he is in the offensive zone, he can become completely invisible in the defensive zone. While he can use his stick to break up a play, he doesn’t consistently do it in a way that leads to offensive possession. Instead, he disrupts the play, the opposing forward bobbles the puck for a second, and then they regain control and move the puck to a teammate. To re-use the word, Guenther is more of a disruptor than a defender. His long reach allows him to block shooting and passing lanes; his stickwork in the defensive end is what he lives and dies by. He will block shots, but I don’t see him going out of his way to do it.
At 6-foot-1, 181 pounds, Guenther has pretty good size, but you would like to see him add more over the coming years as he continues to mature. A key reason why: board battles.
“At 6-foot-1, Guenther will eventually need to fill out his frame, because along the boards he can be outmuscled for puck possession despite his height,” Frojelin said. To his point, While I witnessed Guenther handling defensive pressure fairly well, he wasn’t nearly as successful when he was forced to play the puck along the boards.
One other thing of note: while his skating isn’t bad by any means, I wouldn’t say that I was impressed by it either. He’s no speedster, and his stride can look a little clunky at times. That being said, skating is something that can definitely be worked on, and there were moments this season where he displayed the ability to use his feet to create separation between him and the defender closest to him. Depending on the team that drafts him, it may not be THAT big of a deal. If you’re looking for someone that really fits the “speed and skill” mold that the Red Wings seem to be going for, though, I’m not sure that this is the player you should be hoping for.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: this player is not ready to make the jump to the NHL next season. Guenther could use another (full) year to strut his stuff in the WHL before determining his next step. There’s a part of me that wonders whether or not this player was a benefactor of his team’s success, or if he was a driving force of it. Another year with the Oil Kings should be enough to get a clear answer to those concerns. In terms of his estimated NHL arrival, two or three years seems reasonable. If his dominance from this season carries over into next season, he would be a prime candidate to have a late-season audition once the WHL season comes to a close.
Fit with the Red Wings
“With the Red Wings, Guenther could take the reigns as an offensively impactful winger in the team’s top six,” Frojelin said. “If Detroit could pair Guenther with a forward who excels at finding teammates in open areas in the offensive zone, he will flourish. His offensive ability is matched by few in the upcoming draft.”
I’ve written before about the appeal of pairing a player like Filip Zadina with 2020 top pick Lucas Raymond due to Zadina’s ability to finish and Raymond’s ability to make plays. Well, with Zadina’s relative lack of goals (15) through 86 career games in the NHL, you could slot Guenther in as the finisher opposite Raymond. Put a solid two-way center like Dylan Larkin in between them and you’ve got the makings of a really strong offensive line.
The biggest reason there isn’t a fit between the Red Wings and Guenther is because of the winger’s deficiency in the defensive zone. The organization loves their forwards to shoulder responsibility at both ends of the ice, and this player may be seen as a bit too one-dimensional for their liking. Expect growing pains if Detroit calls his name on draft day.
Best Player Available
Depending on who you ask, there’s a solid chance that Guenther will not be available by the time the Red Wings are on the clock at sixth overall.
Based on that logic, there’s a reasonable argument to be made that Guenther would be the best player available to the Red Wings should he still be on the board. I think that distinction ultimately depends on how you evaluate players and what you value most in them, but there’s no doubt that Detroit does not have anyone in their system with the pure finishing ability that this player has. Even if he’s not the player at the top of your draft wish list, this is still a player worthy of getting excited about should he put on a hat with the winged wheel on it come July 23.
“Blessed with soft hands and sharp hand-eye coordination, Guenther can make short work of defenders in one-on-one scenarios. Filling out has helped make his puck-protection skills even more impressive, as his constant shifting of body positioning with slight delays (while his head is up) can ankle-break an opponent to a good three or four feet off of him.” – Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst
“A skilled winger who wants the puck on his stick and knows what to do with it. He breaks down defensive schemes on the fly and attacks their weaknesses.” – Tony Ferrari, Dobber Prospects
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I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.