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MELBOURNE, Australia — In his two-plus seasons on the job, Coyotes coach André Tourigny has been consistent in his demands. He’s not interested in one- or two-dimensional players. He wants to build complete players.
In that respect, he sees many of the things that he needs to see from forward Dylan Guenther — areas of his game that were present in the two-game NHL Global Series.
“I see a guy who’s really good without the puck,” Tourigny said. “He has a great stick and he’s really good in his structure. Like I said last year many times, even when Guns doesn’t have his A-game with the puck, he’s so good without the puck that he’s still useful for the team. He kills penalties for us, he plays in every situation, he’s really good defensively as well.”
That’s all important, but Guenther’s nickname in juniors was Gunner for a reason. The Coyotes drafted him for his ability to score. He had 58 goals in 75 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2021-22, and he had 29 goals in 39 games with the Seattle Thunderbirds last season.
That scoring touch wasn’t on display much in the 33 games he played for the Coyotes last season. He had six goals (four on the power play) and he did not score in two preseason games in Melbourne (he had one assist).
“I think he’s not comfy yet with the puck,” Tourigny said. “He’s putting a lot of pressure on himself. He will have to just relax and trust how good he is and that will improve his game with the puck.”
It’s far too early in the preseason to know if Guenther will cross that comfort threshold, but the question still lingers: What’s the best path for his development? Can he learn to rekindle his offense while remaining a responsible all-around player? Would he be better served by spending a season in the AHL to build that confidence with the puck? Or could he benefit from a mix of both levels?
“When you have young prospects, you can sometimes help them grow by seeing different levels,” GM Bill Armstrong said. “Sometimes, guys start in the American League, they work their way up to the NHL and then they go back down to the American League and they continue to grow through the whole process.
“I think that was the case for Dylan last season. He started in the NHL, he went to World Juniors [Championship], he came back to the NHL and then he went back to [Seattle]. What he saw was a ton of pressure situations and playoff hockey; something we couldn’t give him that he got at other levels. He got to be a leader and he got to be the man.”
If the Coyotes assign Guenther to the Tucson Roadrunners this season, he won’t be happy about it. He wasn’t happy when he went back to the WHL last season, but he vowed to make the most of it and as Armstrong noted, “he crushed it.”
“I do think I made the most of that situation but I also think I belong in the NHL,” he said. “I’m still pretty young, but I’ve been through a lot. I’ve played in a lot of important games, went deep twice in the playoffs, and got to represent Canada. I think all those experiences help you get better. When the games are on the line, when those little plays and details matter, I’m confident in those situations.”
There are literally zero concerns about Guenther’s dedication to his craft, his work ethic or his attitude. He did everything he was supposed to do this offseason, even after Seattle made a run to the Memorial Cup final on June 4.
“My offseason was a little bit shorter than a lot of other guys, but I got bigger and I got stronger,” he said. “I know it’s early, but I can kind of feel it out there in the corners. I gained some weight, but I didn’t lose any speed.”
The Coyotes are giving Guenther every opportunity to succeed early in the preseason. He’s playing on a line with skilled rookie Logan Cooley and savvy veteran Jason Zucker, who is there to shepherd the pair through NHL adolescence.
“Zuck has played in the league for a while, and he has had a lot of success. He’s a really good veteran presence for this team,” Guenther said. “With me and Cools being the younger guys, I think that we can learn how to play off of each other and hopefully have some success. He’s obviously super skilled. He’s such a good skater. He’s fast, shifty, and he has really good hands in tight so there’s a lot of benefit to playing with those guys.”
There is plenty of time to build that chemistry, but it bears repeating that the NHL is not a developmental league. If Guenther can’t show the offensive spark that he needs to show with the Coyotes, the management team has to do what’s best for his long-term development, even if that ruffles Guenther’s feathers and ruffles the fan base’s feathers.
“If players are not successful at a certain level, you’ve got to help them grow,” Armstrong said. “When you’re playing under 10 minutes, or it’s not going your way in the NHL and you’re struggling as a young player, that doesn’t help you.
“You may think it does, but it doesn’t help you in the long run. You’re better off going back down to the American league, reestablishing your game and coming up with a little bit of excitement and jump in your game and, more than anything, confidence.”
Guenther is doing his best to avoid that scenario.
“I don’t really think about it,” he said. “Every practice is a tryout. I’m gonna have bad practices. Stuffs not gonna go my way sometimes, but I think it’s about how I respond after a bad shift, after a bad rep, making sure that mentally I’m able to regroup and get back on track and continue to build.
“That’s important for me and it’s gonna be tough. There’s a lot of new information that comes in at the start of camp, a lot of stuff you have to incorporate so it’s about making sure that I’m ready to go when that comes so I can do a good job and practice hard and have it translate to the game.”
Top photo courtesy of Isaac Torres, Arizona Coyotes
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