Much of the focus in the leadup to 2021 NHL Draft has been on the robust group of potential top defenseman in this class. Particularly in Devils circles, the focus has been on the blueline because that is the greatest organizational need. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some very impressive forwards at the top of this draft class, though, and Dylan Guenther is an example of that. Could the Devils look in his direction if the defensemen they like best are off the board at #4?
Who is Dylan Guenther?
Dylan Guenther is a highly-skilled dual-threat winger coming out of the WHL who projects to be one of the top forwards in the 2021 Draft. Guenther, a native of Edmonton, Alberta, has played just about all of his hockey up to this point for teams right near his hometown, including the last two seasons with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings. Guenther put up a stellar performance for a 16-year old in his draft-minus-one season scoring over a point per game in 2019-20 and he shined in a highly abbreviated 2021 WHL season, putting up an extraordinary 2.0 points per game, albeit in a fairly small 12-game sample. Guenther also represented his country at this spring’s U18 World Junior Championships, helping lead Canada to a gold medal.
Guenther is a player who is a threat everywhere on the ice, as he possesses elite goal-scoring talent with many ways to beat opposing defenders and goaltenders with his shot. He is also a very talented playmaker, able to find space and lanes while set up in the offensive zone as well as creating havoc off the rush. And while the reports on his game place offense as the selling point of his game, they also describe a player who is capable and willing to make an impact in the defensive zone, too. The only concern you might have with taking Guenther at the very top of the draft is that he really did not see a ton of this ice this year, a common problem in 2021, but his age 16 season in the WHL was good enough that even in an abbreviated year, the gaudy numbers in this small sample are in line with a logical trajectory for him as a player. Certainly, he will be in the mix in the Devils decision-making at four, depending on how the top-three shake out.
Where is Dylan Guenther Ranked?
Like most players near the top of this draft, Guenther has some substantial variation in where he is ranked, but he’s squarely situated within most evaluators’ top-10s. Most commonly, he shows up around #7 or 8, but he also shows up in a few top-fives. He is squarely in the conversation among the three or four most highly-touted forwards in this draft class.
What Others Say About Dylan Guenther
The strange season has made evaluating prospects this year a bit tricky and Guenther is no exception, with a very abbreviated season. He had a cup of coffee in the AJHL before that league got shut down like the rest of them and then only played 12 games in the WHL. It’s hard to say he did not make the most of that WHL time, though, and the reviews of Guenther’s game are pretty universally glowing. He is a highly dangerous scorer who can be just as lethal finding an open teammate after drawing defenders’ attention.
To start, let’s go to this well done and highly descriptive profile from Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports. Kerr dives into all aspects of Guenther’s game from his skating, which he describes as very good, and then looks at multiple aspects of his offensive and defensive game. First, a bit on his playmaking and ability to create opportunities:
Guenther is a threat both with and without the puck. He has good hands and can handle the puck and make plays while moving at top speed. He has very good vision and the passing skills to be a playmaker off the rush, or in the offensive zone.
Far from just a distributor, Kerr also talks about his highly-regarded shooting ability, which is wide-ranging with a quick release, accuracy, and power:
Guenther can also be a sniper. His wrist shot and snap shot are both powerful and accurate. He gets them off quickly and he can use his quick hands to change his shooting angle, fooling goaltenders. He also has a very good one-timer.
He also praises Guenther’s defensive game, both down low and up high in his own zone. The only slight dings are his getting a bit overzealous starting the transition at times and also that he could use just a little more mass.
He does a good job of covering the point as well as keeping himself open for a breakout pass when his teammates turn the puck over. Guenther shows a willingness to get in passing and shooting lanes. If there is a critique, it’s that he can sometimes fly the zone a little early looking for a long breakaway pass.
Next, we go to the always-thorough Steve Kournianos at The Draft Analyst, who has a lot of the same good things to say about Guenther. I think his description of Guenther’s skating is interesting, as he posits that it is almost a sort of deceptive speed rather than something that blows you away. With the explosiveness described below, that’s probably more about just picking his spots to turn on the jets.
Guenther doesn’t seem like an explosive skater at first or second glance, but he can drop a lightning-quick first step in any direction, and his rapid peel-backs consistently catch opponents off guard. One thing of note is that he has added nearly 20 pounds from last season without a decrease in agility or acceleration, and he remains difficult to contain in the neutral zone.
Later, Kournianos gets to his shot, which seems to be a big problem for opposing teams in just about any situation:
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.
Kournianos also praises Guenther’s general hockey sense and smarts, both with and without the puck and says that he projects as a potential premier scoring winger in the NHL.
For a snapshot of his WHL season, we go to this report from March on his blazing performance in the WHL from Tony Ferrari at Dobber Prospects. Guenther put up a nonsensical 15 points in his opening 6 games back with Edmonton and he clearly was a bit too much to handle for his WHL competition.
It’s safe to say that Guenther is excited to be back on the ice with the Edmonton Oil Kings as the young winger currently leads the WHL in scoring with 15 points in just six games to start the year. He has been a wizard on the powerplay, showing off his high-end one-timer and deceptive passing ability. He has been able to find teammates for backdoor tap-ins or in high-danger areas because his show has become such a threat and draws attention. After almost a year without game action outside of a short stint in the AJHL that only lasted a few games before COVID shut the season down there as well, Guenther has made his mark on this young WHL season helping pump his draft stock publically. If there was any question that he was the top draft-eligible prospect from the WHL, he has answered it emphatically. Solidifying himself as a top-10 prospect, his rise could continue right into the conversation at the top of the draft.
Next we go to a profile on Guenther from Mathieu Sheridan at the Hockey Writers, he echoes a lot of the observations from others. I suspect with very few WHL games this season, scouts were all watching the same film for the most part, so there is a bit less variation than in the typical range of prospect evaluations.
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. He plays with an active stick and is good at being in position to start the breakout or receive a pass from his defensemen. He is not afraid to battle for the puck in the corners and does not shy away from physicality which is good to see. At times, he may tend to jump too early when the puck has not exited the zone but that is not something that should be worrisome.
His transition game appears to be a real strength and really he just seems like an offensive threat from just about anywhere on ice. With good instincts, strong passing, a great shot, and enough speed to put opposing defenders on their heels, there really doesn’t seem to be many negatives to pick at for Guenther’s game. His defensive game is also generally pretty well regarded, aside from an occaisional tendency to fly the zone for a counter attack a bit too early. With plus attributes in goal scoring, playmaking, and defensive ability, he is certainly not a one-dimensional winger.
Finally, we go to a full report from Draft Prospects Hockey on all of the individual performances from Team Canada at U18 World Juniors, which has this to say about Guenther’s tournament:
Guenther is another piece to the puzzle on this madly talented Canada lineup. He looked good in Texas doing so many little things to help Canada be successful. He played a strong role being effective at five-on-five, on the penalty kill and on the powerplay. He was skating hard, fighting through checks, filling open ice, digging for pucks, riving in deep on the forecheck, blocking lanes on the defensive side and even using his body to step up on opponents. He was a little hesitant to fire pucks on net here unlike his games in Edmonton. Still showed the high-end vision and playmaking, soft touch passes and skilled saucer when needed. But did not take over the play and dominate as you would have hoped for a potential top five pick but did so many little things to steer the direction of this team to the gold that it would be hard to see his stock fall based on a lack of offensive dominance. We see him as having top line winger two-way playmaking NHL upside.
As they mention, I think you’d like to be a little more wowed by the numbers (4g, 3a in 7 games) for a guy projecting to the top five, but he certainly did not have a bad tournament and showing that you can do the little things has definite value when you already have pretty ample evidence of high-end talent.
A Little Video
An Opinion of Sorts
Obviously, the makeup of the top of this draft class combined with the organizational needs of the Devils have pushed most people’s thinking toward a defenseman at fourth-overall. I generally share that view, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of some of the forwards at the top of this draft. With Guenther, the Devils would be getting someone with serious ability to fill the net, something the team is in constantly in need of. Given his overall profile, it’s not like they would be sacrificing too much in other areas of this game to get that scoring ability, either.
In the end, I think a couple of the other forwards at the top of the draft in Eklund and Beniers are slightly more appealing to me, which, combined with the group of at least three top defensemen I like best, makes Guenther maybe a slight tier below the group I want to see the Devils looking at. This is not necessarily a knock on Guenther, who does seem like an excellent prospect and definitely a top-ten talent, and is somebody I’d happily take at the end of the day, but I think there are a few others I just rate slightly higher.
What are your thoughts on Dylan Guenther? How would you feel if the Devils ended up grabbing him at fourth overall? Satisfied? Disappointed? He certainly fills a perpetual organizational need. Where do you rate him among to top forwards? Sound off with your thoughts below and thanks for reading.