PHOENIX – As the Arizona Coyotes’ rookies marched out of the locker room for the second day of rookie camp, all eyes were focused on Dylan Guenther.
The Coyotes’ top prospect missed Day 1 of camp due to an illness, and he is coming off a summer knee injury sustained while playing with his junior hockey club. But Guenther reached the ice surface, skated smoothly onto the rink and took a powerful stride around the net, sending a message.
He is healthy and ready to go.
After being selected ninth overall in the 2021 NHL draft, Guenther was sent back down to the Western Hockey League (WHL) last season to continue his development. He did just that by finishing with 91 points in 59 regular-season games, helping lead the Edmonton Oil Kings to a WHL championship.
A year later, he is at rookie camp trying to leave the Coyotes’ brass with the lasting impression that he belongs on their roster. And the Coyotes message to him is just as clear: They will give him every opportunity to make the team.
“I am looking forward to seeing his growth,” said Coyotes coach André Tourigny. “Last year we saw how he can shoot, as he has the talent. I’m looking forward to seeing how much he has improved physically.”
Guenther indicated he was anxious to get on the ice after missing the first day.
“It’s nice to get back into camp, get back into some routines, practices and get some games in,” Guenther said. “It feels like it’s been a while, so I’m excited for the games.”
During the summer, Guenther returned home to Edmonton, Alberta to work with long-time trainer Barry Butt of Premiere Strength Performance for four weeks. Butt and Guenther spent Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on lower-body workouts and Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays with an upper-body focus.
“His strength has gone up a lot,” Butt said. “He has developed basically over the last three years tremendously because his strength, speed, and size has gone up. That was the big thing that the Coyotes wanted for (him) this year. They wanted to get him a little bit bigger, get him up to 190 pounds.”
Guenther looked noticeably strong on his skates during Day 2 of Coyotes rookie camp, proving that the work over the summer had paid off and that he is 100% healthy. Guenther had a shortened offseason because his WHL junior team made it to the 2022 Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup tournament.
The Memorial Cup features the best junior hockey teams across Canada and the United States. Unfortunately, Guenther had to watch his team from the sidelines thanks to a knee injury that knocked him out of the tournament.
“Having a short offseason, I think (I) had some difficulties just not getting the time,” Guenther said. “But you know, I do think I really took advantage of the time that I had, and I’m looking forward to camp and I feel like I’m ready for it.”
One player that Guenther has already established chemistry with at camp is Conor Geekie, who the Coyotes drafted with a first-round pick earlier this year.
Guenther and Geekie had their battles last season in the WHL playoffs, where Guenther’s Oil Kings defeated Geekies’ Winnipeg Ice.
“We’ve had a few conversations about that,” Geekie said. “I love Dyl, he’s really good. (He’s a) good guy, roomed with him a little bit this summer, too. It’s been a lot of fun. Hopefully we get a chance to play together.”
The Coyotes want to see what the pair can do together as well.
During Arizona’s second game at the Rookie Faceoff, Geekie centered a line of Guenther and Coyotes prospect Ben McCartney that produced offensive opportunities every time they were on the ice. Geekie and McCartney each finished the game with a goal and an assist, and Guenther also had an assist.
The chemistry between the three goes back to the summer, with all of them getting spurts of training together in Arizona.
“Hanging out with them a lot, I think, translates on the ice, and we all kind of bring something different to the table,” Guenther said. “So I think that that’s going to help us moving forward.”
Guenther’s strong play at the rookie tournament adds momentum to his effort to make the Coyotes roster in the fall. With the team in a rebuild and in need of a fresh influx of young talent, he might just get his chance.
“I’d be shocked if he doesn’t make that team,” Butt said. “He’s always had the ability to score. He’s got a world-class shot, and he shoots the puck like nobody else. He just finds ways to put the puck in the net. Those guys don’t come along every day.”
One area of Guenther’s game Butt believes will help him is his improved defensive game. To play at the NHL level, a forward has to be able to produce offensively but also cannot be a defensive liability.
Butt credits Guenther’s commitment to the game and desire to get better for his development toward becoming a more well-rounded, two-way player.
“I think Dylan’s really developed (so) that he’s not just a one-trick pony that only just scores goals,” Butt said. “He’s got a really good brain for hockey, really understands the game, and he’s got the physical tools to do it. You know, he’s not always going to be the fastest guy on the ice, but he’s got enough speed and is smart enough.”
The Coyotes’ official veteran training camp begins Wednesday, and Guenther will bring to it a certain amount of swagger that comes from knowing he belongs.
“It’s a marathon. So for Guenths, it’s the same,” Tourigny said. “We know he has the talent, so it’s up to him to keep working at it, and I’m so excited to see him.”