Dylan Guenther may end up being one of the best players to come out of the 2021 NHL Draft when all is said and done. His play in the WHL this season was extraordinary. What about his game makes him so dominant?
Dylan Guenther Prospect Deep Dive
What The Experts Are Saying
Ben Kerr of Last Word: “Guenther could become a top-line NHL winger. Given the lack of games this year, he may need another year in junior before he is NHL-ready. He could also use that time to get stronger before he is ready to play the pro game. That said, the types of things he needs to work on, adding muscle and some defensive awareness are things that can be taught, while his natural offensive skill is something that cannot.”
Mathieu Sheridan of The Hockey Writers: “Guenther is near the top of scouts’ rankings for many reasons. With the puck on his stick, he is deadly. His ability to find open teammates in the slot is impressive. He is also really good at finding open space in the slot to present himself as an option for a scoring chance…Another strong aspect of his game is his transitional ability. He is great at moving the puck up the ice and is able to garner speed through his crossovers and attack open lanes in the offensive zone without hesitation. Guenther is also responsible in the defensive zone as well.”
Josh Tessler of Smaht Scouting: “If you select Guenther at the 2021 NHL Draft, you are acquiring an outstanding playmaking winger, who possesses the ability to read defensive formations with ease and adjust on the fly… Not only does Guenther come up with strategies on the fly to open up lanes, but his ability to deliver passes from range has come in handy at both the WHL and AJHL levels. Guenther can fire crisp cross ice seam passes, long range passes from the point to the corners and backhand cross ice feeds from half-wall to half-wall. He moves the puck with ease.”
Dylan Guenther Draft Profile
Guenther, born April 10th, 2003, is an 18-year-old winger who played for the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings and the AJHL’s Sherwood Park Crusaders. Standing at 6’1” and 181 pounds, Guenther held his own physically in both leagues. In fact, Guenther recorded three goals and two assists for five points in four AJHL games. He also tallied 12 goals and 12 assists for 24 points in just 12 WHL games. Guenther was then invited to play for Team Canada at the IIHF U18 World Junior Championships. He tallied four goals and three assists for seven points in seven total games, en route to a gold medal victory.
Per Elite Prospects consolidated rankings, looking at various experts and outlets, Guenther ranks seventh. Among those used in the consolidated rankings, Guenther ranks as high as second by TSN’s Bob McKenzie and as late as 12th by Dobber Prospects and The Puck Authority. Personally, Guenther is ranked 19th. That is far lower than many experts, but to clarify a bit more, he’s in the 10-19 range tier. Regardless, I am a bit lower than most, so let’s get into why.
Guenther is a very good skater. To start, he has really good speed, moving faster than most of the other players on the ice. He also possesses strong acceleration. On a more technical level, Guenther is mostly sound with his stride mechanics. For one, he utilizes crossovers well when accelerating. He keeps his feet tight together, quickly churning his legs, and generating a lot of power because of it. He can complete tight turns without losing speed, and even if he does get behind the play, he catches back up effectively.
Again, Guenther’s stride is almost technically sound. He consistently keeps his knees over his toes, showing strong ankle flexion. His strides are long and wide, which maximizes each stride that he takes. Guenther also keeps his toes pointed straight, which also maximizes each stride. The one stride mechanic that he needs to improve upon is his knee bend. He’s a taller player, and he’s lanky, so his stride looks a little awkward at times due to him not getting a little bit lower. This is a very minor issue and is easily coachable. He should be a very good skater at the NHL level, though he may not be an elite one.
At the WHL and AJHL levels, Guenther looked as though he was a very effective transitional player. Unfortunately, I only tracked one AJHL game, and did not track a WHL game. In that AJHL game, Guenther had a 44.44 percent success rate when exiting the zone with possession. When it came to entering the offensive zone with possession, he held an 80 percent success rate. The AJHL is a relatively weak league, however. I tracked his World Juniors performance, where the competition level was much higher.
In the World Juniors, Guenther owned a 43.86 percent zone exit success rate. Meanwhile, when entering the offensive zone, he had a success rate of just 48 percent. He ranked sixth among the seven tracked forwards in the World Juniors in his zone exit success rate, and fifth in his entry success rate. Taking more of a back seat to Shane Wright, Guenther did not look like himself in the transitional aspect of his game.
Guenther is an offensive phenom. If it wasn’t already obvious with how he absolutely lit up the shortened WHL season, here’s a reminder. Guenther is an incredible playmaker with a fantastic one-timer. His shot may not be the best in the class, and he must work further on his shot before that aspect of his game is NHL-ready, his shot is still a massive threat on the ice. He loves using his shot as well. In the World Juniors, Guenther fired 11 shots in the two tracked games, with six hitting the net, for a shooting percentage of 54.55 percent. Among those 11 shots, four came from the slot. He scored twice from the slot, and missed the net on one of the two other shots he had.
As for his passing, he attempted 15 passes in the offensive zone, completing nine of them. That’s a 60 percent completion rate for offensive zone passes. However, just one of those passes was directed towards a high-danger area on the ice, and it wasn’t completed. Six pass attempts were deemed “simple” and eight were cycle passes.
Dylan Guenther’s Offensive Style
In the World Juniors, it seemed like Dylan Guenther had trouble matching the pace of the games. Through the transition, he seemed very casual and would fail to enter the offensive zone, or run out of space and be forced to dump the puck in. In the offensive zone, at times he would try to speed things up but it would lead to turnovers or a shot from low-danger. Other times, he would slow things down and keep it simple, which isn’t a negative. However, for a player of his caliber, it’s no secret that people wanted to see a little bit more risk to his game.
In the World Juniors, Guenther generally positioned himself in support of the puck. He stayed along the boards if the puck was in the corners as a simple pass for his teammate. If the puck was at the point, Guenther would usually be at the tops of the circles as a short pass for his teammates at the blue line. The few times that he went to the high-danger areas, he cashed in with goals. He reads the play extremely well, and knows how to exploit defensive zone coverages and time plays very well. However, he did not push the pace in the games I watched, outside of a few moments where he struck with a goal or assist.
Defensive Zone Ability
In the AJHL, Guenther did not look engaged when the opposing team had possession in his defensive end. He wasn’t moving his feet or challenging opposing puck carriers very often, though he did position himself very well and showed a very good active stick. In the WHL, he displayed marked improvement, moving his feet far better, and displaying further just how well he reads and anticipated plays. With the cherry on top, Guenther looked excellent in his own end at the World Juniors.
Guenther supports his teammates down low, and it was rare to catch him flying the zone and cheating for offence. He angles his opponents extremely well, forcing them to stay along the boards and outside the slot area. He does so by being aggressive to the point and to the opposing winger on his side. Attacking with his stick in front and widening his stance to close shooting lanes, he forces his opponents to second guess and try to skate around him. When they do so, he adjusts using his strong skating and stick work to keep them away from high-danger areas while simultaneously blocking passing lanes.
He keeps his head on a swivel and tracks his man in coverage well when the puck is on the other side of the ice. Additionally, he is very good at defending against the rush. Due to his relatively conservative approach in the U18’s, he often would be in the neutral zone, facing the rush. Again, he displayed high-end anticipation and hockey IQ, paired with an excellent patience, to break-up entry attempts for his opponents.
Dylan Guenther’s NHL Comparison and Potential
Dylan Guenther has immense upside, as shown by his dominance in a shortened WHL season. Additionally, despite taking a step back and playing a less-aggressive game, allowing Shane Wright to take over, he still performed well in the U18’s. That being said, his lack of physicality and being too conservative when playing with and against better talent, worries me just a tad. Guenther can easily become a top six winger in the NHL, but if he can’t land a top six role, that’s where there can be issues. He isn’t physical enough to be sat on a third line, and his pure skill is too high-end to be buried on a fourth line. That said, if he isn’t given a legitimate chance at a top six role when he is ready for it, his talents may be wasted.
As for a comparison, based on style and not projection or skillset, Guenther reminds me of Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Marner is an excellent playmaker and can read plays exceptionally well and exploits opposing defensive coverages consistently. His passing ability is high-end. Guenther, if developed well, has exceptional playmaking abilities. He also could dominate in that aspect as well. Additionally, Guenther could be a Swiss-army knife in a sense that he can be deployed as a penalty killer or in shut-down situations similar to how Marner is deployed. Both are responsible in their own end and take pride in that area of the ice. Finally, both lack in the physical department, though Guenther has the size to change that, in time.