It goes without saying that any team drafting near the top of the NHL draft could probably use some scoring. But while this year’s draft crop doesn’t seem to have a talent the likes of Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid or
Nail Yakupov Nathan MacKinnon, that doesn’t mean a team like the Anaheim Ducks (who scored a league-lowest 126 goals in 2021), the Detroit Red Wings (second-worst at 127) or the Seattle Kraken (who somehow scored zero goals last season) can’t find a player to help them put the biscuit in the basket.
And as long as that’s all you’re asking him to do, I present to you Dylan Guenther of the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings.
Coming in at 6-foot-1 and 181 pounds, the Edmonton native broke his hometown teams’ rookie records for goals and points with 26 and 59, respectively, starting the season as a 16-year-old. Last season, Guenther was on another strong pace in the WHL with 12 goals and 12 assists in 12 games when the WHL season was shut down due to COVID-19. For team Canada’s U18s, Guenther had another point-per-game pace (4-3=7 in 7 games) but didn’t look nearly as dynamic against heightened competition.
Nevertheless, scouts are enamored with the kid’s shot and playmaking ability, even if some believe his defense and physicality could use some work. But while a Selke might not be in Guenther’s future, a top-line role as a dynamic scorer could be in the offing. Let’s see what else the scouts have to say about the potential top-5, definite top-10 selection.
What Scouts Are Saying
Guenther had a great limited WHL season, scoring two points per game (24 points in 12 games) for the Oil Kings following his great underage season, although his U18 worlds were good but not as inspiring. Guenther is a forward with a lot of NHL attributes. He has great skill, and can make skilled plays through defenders and to teammates at an NHL pace. He can make some plays through seams while also having the shot to score from a distance. He has a lot of talent, but also works off the puck, forcing turnovers and playing in traffic, even if he’s not overly physical. In a sentence, Guenther may not be a true game breaker in the NHL, but he projects as a top-line forward who will endear himself to fans and coaches.
Guenther is your classic dual-threat who can differentiate between when it’s time to play sniper and when to go the pass-first route... he rarely settles for low-percentage plays and will reload a possession if necessary by staying in motion and alternating sides. But Guenther has a plus-plus shot-release combo and he sure loves to use it, and you can say his “office” for a right wing is anywhere inside the left circle, especially on the power play. His shots per game in 2020-21 (4.25) took a massive jump in comparison to last season (2.87), albeit in a smaller sample size, but there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t have hit at least 50 or 60 goals and 250 shots had the WHL played a full season. As nasty as his wrister and one-timer are, however, Guenther probably is the best among his peers at depositing net-mouth chances or cross-crease feeds.
Having elite goal-scoring prowess affords Guenther the time and space to showcase his vision and passing ability. He’s often the primary possessor during advances up the ice and will make smart timing plays to allow his entire unit to not only enter the zone but also have enough time to position themselves properly. Guenther on the power play is used as the “F4” who starts out high but eventually slips into the left or right circle, where he will deliver crisp, accurate passes across the seam from either forehand or backhand.
Guenther’s two-way game is a significant part of his overall skill set, but he has taken it to another level now that he has a thicker frame and is a year wiser. He is hyper-aggressive off the puck and will apply in-your-face pressure using an active stick, hard shoves, and rapid directional changes that allow him to harass either a mobile or static puck carrier. Guenther also is one of the more active penalty killers you’ll find within the 2003 age group, as he constantly pressures the points and finishes his checks along the half wall. His desire to make life difficult for an opponent is quite strong and it’s blatantly obvious why coaches at multiple levels of competition have used him for the penalty kill or during late/close situations... Although Guenther’s zeal off the puck can lead to occasional overcommitments or lapses in coverage, any coach would gladly welcome his efforts and the mostly positive results that go along with them.
From a shooting perspective, Guenther enjoys one-timers. He will find open ice in the offensive zone, call for the puck and drill one-timers in the back of the net with good precision and accuracy. But, he is not a one-dimensional shooter, he will get in down low and has shown that he can elevate backhand shots at the doorstep. So, he can draw the goaltender closer and lower, but at a drop of a dime, he will use his backhand to burn the goaltender on the top right of the net. When advancing towards the net, if it seems like he is over-skating the puck, he has shown that he will utilize his skate to kick the puck to his stick to preserve the opportunity.
During his short stint in the AJHL, I noticed that his defensive play was a bit slow at times. Sometimes, he came into the zone too late or was slightly late to put pressure on an attacker. But, in the WHL, he has displayed good defensive positioning as he shifts back and forth from defending the point to defending down low. Guenther will also use his frame and push the attack towards the boards to limit access to the net. He will also stick lift and try to catch an attacker by surprise at the blue-line in an attempt to stop a controlled zone entry. The only area for improvement for Guenther in the defensive zone is to try to match the physical play that he implements in the offensive zone but in his own zone.
He plays the game with a boatload of skill, smarts, and pace. He has a bit of a lanky frame but at 6’1″, he should fill out as he matures physically. The areas of weakness in his game are few and far between. His defensive game was decent as a 16-year-old last season with most of his issues coming from a lack of strength or getting a bit overeager and chasing the puck carrier. If he can reign things in a bit, he could be a very good defensive winger because he has all of the tools to stay agile and effective defensively. He is very efficient in transition, scanning the ice and identifying skating paths and openings to exploit. He is a good skater who has a quick first step and can look eerily calm with the puck on his stick. He does need to up the pace a bit but he gets around fine for now. He has the hands and puck skills to weave through the opposition regardless of what zone they are in. He has dangled his way out of trouble in his own zone to start a breakout and deked defenders below the goal line to set up his teammates for an excellent scoring chance. His offensive game is well-rounded and opportunistic. His ability to read defenses like an NFL quarterback and attack them at their weak points is special. He understands what the opponents want to do and forces them to do the opposite. His passing is silky smooth and his shot pops off his stick in an instant, picking corners. Guenther has the ability to finish in tight with crafty hands and instant elevation of the puck or score from distance by concealing his shooting intentions until it’s too late. He has some positional versatility and can play center in a pinch but he is the rare winger who can drive play and make his teammates better without having to play the pivot position. The Oil Kings forward should be a top-10 pick if all goes well this season and depending on how well it goes, he could be in the conversation for number one by season’s end.
Would He Fit In With The Wild?
Well, he’s a right shot forward... do I have your attention already?
Seriously though, a few draft prognosticators have commented that Guenther would do best with dedicated playmakers, and considering centermen the likes of Joel Eriksson Ek, Matthew Boldy and Marco Rossi should be with the WIld before Guenther means that there should definitely be some linemates ready for him to provide the puck at the top the slot for Guenther to one-time home.
Could The Wild Get Him?
As I laid out in my Brandt Clarke preview, nabbing a top-10 talent would require a massive trade up that would likely include both Wild first-rounders, perhaps more. Getting a transformational talent might be worth it, but as strong as Guenther is scoring the puck, he’s not the 100 percent sure thing that you would need him to be to spend that kind of draft capital. No, Guenther is likely to go somewhere between picks three and eight to a team like the Ducks, Red Wings or Los Angeles Kings.
A Minnesota Relation
Wild fans haven’t enjoyed seeing a lot of true scorers in franchise history, so there aren’t a ton of guys to compare him to. Guenther’s not the dynamic player that Marian Gaborik was or Kirill Kaprizov looks like he’s becoming. He’s quick, but not the speedster that Pierre-Marc Bouchard was, and while he’s got a powerful shot, it’s not the boomer of Brian Rolston.
But there was a player who made his mark with the Wild, and though he wasn’t drafted by Minnesota, the scouting report for the then 6-foot-2, 205 pound winger showed a player known for more scoring than playmaking, an ablity to get goals in tough spaces, and a physical if not overly gritty game.
Oh, and he likes to score off one-timers too.
Hopefully that doesn’t break too many hearts for Wild fans, but Nino Niederreiter is the closest comparison to Dylan Guenther’s style of game.
2021 NHL Draft Board
- Owen Power — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
- Matthew Beniers — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
- Brandt Clarke — D, HC Nove Zamky (Slovenia)
- Luke Hughes — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
- Dylan Guenther — RW/LW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)