Arizona Coyotes, Dylan Guenther

Coyotes Sending Guenther Down Is the Smart Move

When the Arizona Coyotes traded Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland to the Vancouver Canucks, the return was all that mattered. They acquired loads of bad contracts but also received a 2021 first-round pick, which fell at number nine in the draft. That pick became one of the Coyotes’ top prospects, Dylan Guenther. Guenther has been all over the place during the past two seasons, playing for multiple junior teams and now soon-to-be Tucson Roadrunners. General manager (GM) Bill Armstrong sent Guenther down to the American Hockey League (AHL). Was that decision smart? Or should they have let him start the season in the NHL and decide later?

Roadrunners Have Plenty of Talent

It’s easy to look at this move by the front office and be confused and surprised that a player of Guenther’s caliber is being sent down. There is no denying the talent that is down within the Roadrunners organization, which has seen immense waves of prospects flowing through the past few seasons. Josh Doan is one of the more prominent names to start his professional career. Doan, who played at Arizona State under Greg Powers for two seasons, recorded nearly a point per game, and many were shocked to see him not stay his junior year.

However, it turns out this would be best for his development as at the end of last year, he managed to see 14 games with the Roadrunners and scored six points. Along with Doan, they also have Jan Jenik, who is on a massive prove-it contract and will look to make a significant impact to cement himself with the Coyotes. After dealing with injuries for portions of last season, if he can stay healthy, he could be a threat on the offense, perhaps even on a line with Guenther. Guenther will also have former Hobey Baker finalist Nathan Smith on a potential line, as he has lots to prove in the AHL.

Ivan Prosvetov Arizona Coyotes
Ivan Prosvetov, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While there are many others, it’s hard to look at the roster and not mention goaltender Ivan Prosvetov. Similar to Jenik, Prosvetov signed a one-year contract during the offseason and is on the verge of not being in the organization. He also has newcomer Matt Villalta, who will be right behind him if he struggles. Nonetheless, Guenther has plenty of talented options with the Roadrunners that should lead to a successful season.

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“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.”

Guenther Will Get Top-Line Minutes

Talent-wise, there is a massive leap from the NHL to the AHL. There is no Connor McDavid or Nathan MacKinnon in the AHL, and the skill difference is very noticeable. In most player’s cases, it tremulously helps them build confidence while still developing correctly, and with Guenther, it can do exactly that. During the preseason, Guenther looked out of place most of the time and struggled to keep up with the pace of his linemates, Jason Zucker and Logan Cooley. He simply was not ready for the NHL at this time.

So now, instead of struggling on the NHL roster’s second, third, or even fourth line, he gets to excel in the AHL in a prominent role. Armstrong wouldn’t be sending him down to play little minutes, so it’s expected he’ll be playing top-line minutes or nearly top-line minutes. He’ll have a chance to play a big part in Tucson’s power play and use the one-timer that got him selected so high.

Related: Coyotes’ Young Core Ready to Lead the Future

“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,” he said. “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.”

How Does Guenther Fare in Tucson?

It’s hard to say how Guenther will do this season, but of course, we can try to predict how he’ll do. Guenther has an extensive resume heading to the Roadrunners with two seasons in the Western Hockey League playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings and Seattle Thunderbirds. He also saw 33 games of NHL action last season. However, the most fond memory was his game-winning goal with Canada at the World Juniors.

If anything, it’ll be easy for Guenther to adapt to the game and the system under head coach Steve Potvin. He has done this nearly everywhere he’s played and will likely do it again. As mentioned earlier, the Roadrunners are a team filled with young talent eager to win and take the next step in making the playoffs. While it’s unknown what his role will be, it’s assumed he’ll be on the first line playing with the best. It also is still being determined how long he’ll be down there. It could be the whole season, a few weeks, or months. Either way, Guenther will look to get off to a hot start and make his way back into the NHL roster as soon as he makes more strides as a player.

Dylan Guenther Edmonton Oil Kings
Dylan Guenther, Edmonton Oil Kings (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

“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.”

Promising Road Ahead for Guenther

While this may not be what Armstrong wanted to do, sometimes, these tough decisions must be made. Especially for a team riddled by rushing prospects in the past, ultimately stunting their growth. Examples of this include Kyle Turris, Max Domi, Dylan Strome, and Brandon Perlini. The new management finally understands that prospects don’t develop in the NHL; the NHL is not a developmental league. For now, Guenther will look to be that guy in Tucson and round out his game to get back to the NHL quickly.

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