Looking back, it’s hard to believe the Arizona Coyotes ever had the chance to draft Dylan Guenther.
The Coyotes made the playoffs in 2020 but failed to repeat their success the following year, with new general manager Bill Armstrong responding to his club’s lackluster 2020-21 campaign by launching a sellout.
Only one problem: Arizona didn’t have a first-round pick in 2021, having lost it due to a violation of the NHL’s combined testing policy under former general manager John Chayka.
Chayka previously traded Arizona’s 2020 first-round pick to the New Jersey Devils to acquire forward Taylor Hall, who helped the Coyotes defeat the Nashville Predators in the postseason bubble.
But, in the wake of those developments, the Coyotes — intent on rebuilding — looked set to go two years without making the first round of the draft.
Not so fast.
Trade rumors swirled around Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the weeks leading up to the 2021 NHL Draft, with the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins widely seen as favorites to acquire the Swedish defenseman.
Finally, Armstrong pulled the trigger on a deal with then-Canucks general manager Jim Benning just hours before the start of the first round. It was a blockbuster: Arizona had traded both Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland to Vancouver.
The Coyotes received three players (Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle) from the Canucks as part of the trade, but they weren’t the real prize.
Vancouver also parted with three draft picks. In addition to the Canucks’ second round in 2022 and seventh round in 2023, the Coyotes received the No. 9 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft — two spots ahead of their lost selection.
Enter Dylan Guenther.
The 6-foot-2 winger has risen steadily in the hockey world since his stellar draft year with the Edmonton Oil Kings. He had a solid training camp with the Coyotes in 2021 before scoring 58 goals in 75 regular season and playoff games to help the Oil Kings win the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
After an injury kept Guenther out of the 2022 Memorial Cup, he spent much of offseason training in Arizona with an eye on the Coyotes’ roster in 2022-23. With Phil Kessel, Andrew Ladd and Alex Galchenyuk all out of the equation, the Coyotes had several wing spots to fill.
This time, Guenther got the team out of the camp. And as the 10-game limit nears for the Coyotes to send him back to the WHL or burn a year of his entry-level contract, Guenther makes him an extremely tough pick.
In his first five NHL games with the Coyotes, Guenther has already scored two goals, had one assist and won praise from head coach André Tourigny.
« He’s pretty calm and steady and everything, » Tourigny said after Guenther’s NHL debut, a 6-3 loss to Boston in which he picked up his first point. « In the first shift he was a little nervous, but he settled in quickly and his composure and composure took over and he played well. »
Guenther’s greatest attribute is undoubtedly his shooting, which he has already put to good use in his short stint with the Coyotes.
He marked his first NHL goal against the Ottawa Senators on October 22, taking a good pass from compatriot Matias Maccelli into the slot and effortlessly flicking a precise wrist past Anton Forsberg.
Then, in his next game, Guenther added the No. 2 goal. And it was a scorcher.
With their home opener at Arizona State University’s Mullett Arena scheduled for Friday, the Coyotes are about to embark on one of the most unusual sagas in recent National Hockey League history. Daily face-to-face will be on the court at ASU with full coverage of the Coyotes’ first homestand in Tempe.
Guenther has four games to play before his entry contract kicks in. The Coyotes are ready to play their next four home games. How’s that for interesting timing?
The Coyotes aren’t really aiming for a playoff spot this season. They would love to nab one of Connor Bedard, Matvei Michkov and Adam Fantilli at the top of the 2023 NHL Draft. The team’s other main goal is to get their privately funded full-scale arena proposal approved by the Tempe City Council.
Until then, wins might be hard to come by in Arizona. The Coyotes took a considerable amount of flak for the disappointing the temporary visitor locker rooms at Mullett Arena, which will be used until an approximately $20 million addition (including NHL home and away locker rooms) is completed next month.
It’s weird enough to imagine an NHL team playing meaningful games in a 5,000-seat arena, which will become reality when the Coyotes and Winnipeg Jets hit the ice Friday night.
But for now, having Guenther in the lineup and producing is a win in itself for a Coyotes club that is quickly assembling an impressive group of talented young forwards.
Beyond Guenther and Maccelli, the Coyotes have 2022 first-round picks Logan Cooley and Conor Geekie on the way. Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz are established NHL scorers, Lawson Crouse recently signed a five-year contract to stay in Arizona, and Barrett Hayton showed promise in his first full NHL season.
Things look less certain on defense, with Jakob Chychrun still awaiting a trade and Shayne Gostisbehere likely to be moved for the capital draft at some point this season. JJ Moser, Victor Soderstrom, Artem Duda, Maveric Lamoureux and Juuso Valimaki are all interesting players, but there is no blue chipper there.
Armstrong and Co. have plenty of picks available to them over the next three drafts, including four second-round selections in 2025 alone. But the Coyotes’ long-term plan on the ice has to start with securing a long-term home, which Mullett Arena is decidedly not.
But it will be one hell of a unique experience until then.
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