Zach
Weil
February 26, 2021

Guenther ready for return, primed for NHL Draft push

In a year that encompassed a nod as the Western Hockey League’s top rookie, representing Canada at the World Under-17 Championship and being involved in two shutdowns in two leagues, Dylan Guenther is ready to be back.

Guenther, set to take on the WHL shortened season with the Edmonton Oil Kings, is returning with more experience and a new mindset — forged through uncertainty — as he finally heads into his draft year.

“Control what you can control,” Guenther said. “There was a lot of uncertainty here heading into the season and all throughout training and whatnot, but I think control what you can control. Guys are going to be playing while other guys are not able to play, so just continue to better myself and better my game, so in the offseason, that’s what I’ve been doing.” 

Even with the personal accolades and successes going into the extended COVID-19 offseason, the forward still had his fair share of physical and mental challenges to overcome. 

What looked to be a smooth path to the 2021 NHL Draft for Guenther became an arduous journey filled with uncertainties.

This year, Guenther’s only focused on what he can impact. 

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE SITUATION

In 2019-20, Guenther worked himself into the limelight for scouts and hockey fans. 

After getting selected first overall by the Edmonton Oil Kings in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft, Gunther propelled himself up NHL Draft boards scoring 59 points (26 goals, 33 assists) in 58 games as a 16-year-old, where Guenther took home the Jim Piggott Trophy as WHL rookie of the year. His hard work and dedication helped cement himself as a consensus top-10 pick in the 2021 draft.

When the WHL’s season was cancelled in March, Guenther was thrust into a daunting offseason early. 

With no timetable for a return, planning a schedule for offseason training was challenging, never mind being forced to go months without skating. The physical challenges were extreme, but mental hurdles facing Guenther was monumental too. 

Guenther had to adapt his mindset to cope with the fact that some of his peers would access resources not available to him. 

“I think you can honestly do a lot at home, at least with what I have,” Guenther said. “I think I have a pretty good setup at my house as far as training for hockey. It’s definitely mentally draining. Knowing that you’re not going to be on the ice for another couple of months while there is other guys skating, but yeah, I know again I know it’s important for me to worry about myself and continue to better myself always.”

Guenther took on all the uncertainties and demonstrated his mental toughness. He developed a new mentality in the face of all the uncertainty surrounding hockey while going through one of the most critical development years in a prospect’s hockey career. 

“For me, I just have to keep things positive,” Guenther said. “I had to focus on the areas of my game that needed work, so strength was a big part of that, so that was my main focus over the long extended offseason, and although it was longer than expected and I wanted, it was a good time for me to work on that. 

“So I feel good heading into this year.”

GUENTHER’S FOCUSED ON THE OIL KINGS

With the WHL on hiatus, draft-eligible players began to look elsewhere to start the 2020-21 season as leagues around the world started to pick up. 

Winnipeg Ice defenseman Carson Lambos headed to Finland to begin playing for JYP, and Cole Sillinger and Jack O’Brien left the WHL for the United States Hockey League.

However, Guenther stayed close to home playing four games for the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Sherwood Park Crusaders, so when the WHL did inevitably start back up, he could seamlessly transition back in with the Oil Kings. 

“I think we have a super solid team this year and a group, and I wanted to stay here,” Guenther said. “I think that was my main focus, and we’re just going to continue to build off of what we did last year, so I’m excited for that.”

Now the WHL’s Central Division’s season kicks off on Feb. 26 with a 24-game interdivisional sprint exclusively in Alberta. 

Guenther is leading the charge for the now much more experienced Edmonton club. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound winger has been on the ice taking part in training camp since Feb. 13. 

This year they are deep with talent and have a shared desire to build on their success that began last season. 

“I think that where I have success is when I am playing my game and my way.” Guenther said. “I think it’s to continue to build off what I did last year and both individually and as a team. I think, although it’s a shortened season, we’re here to win, and we’re here to get better. So that’s my main focus right now.”

GUENTHER HAS HIGH UPSIDE

The 2021 draft is set to be one of the most uncertain and unprecedented in NHL history. 

The NHL is expected to have several scenarios for the draft on the table so scouts can get sufficient time watching all eligible prospects in 2021. 

There has been talk about pushing the draft back to October, Having back-to-back drafts in 2022, and even just pushing through and holding the draft on July 23-24.

“I’m obviously no stranger to dates being changed and a lot of things being changed,” Guenther said. “Whether it be in the routine with just getting back into the season so I think having to be pretty versatile that way and just continuing to better myself will help put me in the best situation heading into whatever happens.”

Guenther is No. 9 in FCHockey’s Winter ranking for the 2021 draft. 

Justin Froese, FCHockey’s head Western scout, has observed Guenther’s game at a number of different levels.

“His skill blends extremely well, showing explosive and deceptive advantages via manipulative gestures while moving dynamically and independently of where he positions pucks and has the ability to string possessions together by taking contested or poor pucks and moving them to areas where his team can generate continuity,” Froese said. “He does a lot really well, but is exceptional at no single facet of his game and as a young forward, felt his defensive game could always use that extra bit of seasoning in terms of approach and decision making.”

Even Guenther’s teammates know that his skill and dedication to hockey make him a special player. 

Oil Kings goaltender Sebastian Cossa is in a prime spot to speak to that. 

“It’s just his IQ, and his shot is just ridiculous,” Cossa said. “We all know that. But his IQ, I mean just around the net, he’s great with the puck. He knows where to put it and knows how to get it in the back of the net.

“He’s a leader. He’s dedicated to hockey: really good guy, a good friend. Everyone likes him. Nothing bad to say about him. He’s an easy-going guy, and yeah, just focused on hockey.”

It’s about the only place Guenther can put his focus at the moment. There is still a lot of uncertainty in the hockey world.

Even still, Guenther’s landing in the top-10 looks to be relatively secure.

With files from Aaron Vickers

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