You've probably heard it all by now: the 2021 NHL draft isn't that strong, especially if you're looking for a game-changing forward.
Dylan Guenther doesn't care about your narratives. He's ready to become an impactful player for whichever team decides to take him. And he shouldn't have to wait that long, either: Guenther is projected to be one of the first forwards taken later this month, with a realistic shot of going in the top five.
Everywhere Guenther has played, he creates offense. He was selected first overall at the 2018 WHL bantam draft after leading the Canadian Sport School Hockey League U-15 division with 56 goals and 103 points in 30 games. He turned that into 58 points in 28 games with the U-18 team the year after and had a .5 points-per-game percentage in an eight-game stint as an underaged player with Edmonton.
His 59 points in 58 games as a full-season rookie gave him the Jum Piggott Trophy as the WHL's top freshman. Had the WHL season gone its normal distance, Guenther could have hit the 100-point mark - something that isn't overly common among first-year eligible prospects. Guenther got a stint in the AJHL before the season truly kicked off, but it still felt like a missed opportunity for the top star to showcase what he can truly do.
"I was sitting at home for a long period of time, whereas countries and other players were able to play and continue to get better through a normal season," Guenther said. "I was unable to do that. And I had to find ways to continue to get better and work on my game."
When he finally did get the chance, he didn't let up. Guenther had 24 points in 12 games, proving just how dangerous he could have been. Seriously, every time he touches the puck, he doesn't something well.
Depending on who you talk to, Guenther either looks more comfortable creating plays with the puck or finishing them after taking a pass in open space. If you ask Guenther, he says he feels comfortable being able to do both.
"Being a guy who creates offense, that's really my strength and my game, I think it's important to be able to do both," Guenther said. "I think if I'm getting a shot off, or I'm shooting, I think being able to find open ice is really a huge part of that.
"I think when I have the puck on my stick, I'm obviously a threat to shoot and score still, but you can also make plays from that, which is also a big part of my game."
One western-based scout didn't actually bring out Guenther's offensive game when talking about what he liked the most out of him. Instead, his play inside his own zone, something that was a bit of a downside prior to him going No. 1 to the Oil Kings in 2018.
"Early on it, it wasn't something we were getting excited about," the scout said. "He doesn't have the physical play in the zone we want to see, but he has evolved to the point where positioning is never a concern and he creates quite a few scoring chances by pissing off the defenders.
"There simply aren't many noticeable flaws in his game. He's as well-rounded as you can ask for."
Guenther notes Sidney Crosby as his favorite player to watch, although many scouts liken him to Kyle Connor or Max Pacioretty. But even though trying to emulate Sidney Crosby is nearly impossible, he still takes a ton of important aspects out of his game and tries to utilize them to his advantage.
"He thinks the game super fast," Guenther said. "I think his compete level is really outstanding. That's really a good thing for young kids to look at, just how hard to get like that works."
“He has a lot of tools that make him such a great player and potentially a great player in the NHL,” John Williams of NHL Central Scouting said of Guenther in a recent episode of the NHL Draft Class podcast. "I kind of get a Max Pacioretty sort of thing from him. He's a sort of similar size kid... and I think he has that kind of potential."
Guenther capped off the season with a trip to Texas to represent Canada at the U-18 World Championship. The Canadians didn't need Guenther to be anything special, cruising through the tournament with a perfect 7-0 record. But the fact that he stood out despite not playing his best hockey really shows just how good of a player he can be. Guenther doesn't have many off nights, and his reliability in all ends of the ice really is a true benefit of his game.
Guenther has a real shot of challenging William Eklund to become the first forward taken in this draft. For teams early in the draft order that don't want to pick a defenseman, there's so much to love about Guenther's game. He's not far from being an NHL-quality player, but once he makes it, the winger will be ready to unleash total bombs on unlucky goaltenders around the league.
For a draft profile on Dylan Guenther, click here.