Dylan Guenther isn’t going anywhere, unless you count the Coyotes’ current Eastern road trip. GM Bill Armstrong said that Arizona’s 2021 first-round pick will be staying with the team past his nine-game trial.
“He has earned it with his play,” Armstrong said.
Guenther played his ninth NHL game on Thursday when the Coyotes faced the Dallas Stars. In those nine games, he had two goals and six points. He entered Friday’s game tied for fifth among NHL rookies in points despite averaging less ice time (12:42) per game than any of the top-14 rookie points leaders.
“He does a lot of things,” coach André Tourigny said. “First of all, he has grown every day in his desire to be better and in his play with and without the puck. His game defensively is growing every week, every day and that gives us a projection of what he will be.”
The trick for both Tourigny and Armstrong is projecting what Guenther will accomplish as the season progresses. Armstrong has noted several times that the game gets harder as the season wears on and veterans dial it in. Tourigny has noted that Guenther shows progression within games as he picks up other teams’ tendencies and the pace of play, and from game to game as he adds each game’s lessons to his overall knowledge base.
Even so, the Coyotes coach echoed Armstrong’s thoughts.
“In all fairness, the game will pick up, the game will be faster, it will be more physical, it will be tighter,” he said. “Who knows? If I could [project what he will do], I would make a lot of money. I would be on the top of a building in a penthouse somewhere right now.
“With players, you just need to go through it. Some guys pick it up. Some guys get to a point where they cannot keep growing. He will be a player. Is it now or is it later? We’ll see, but we like a lot of what he’s giving us right now.”
The Coyotes’ decision to keep Guenther means that with his next game played (he played Saturday in Washington), he gained one official year of professional experience and the first season of his entry-level contract kicked in, paying him a base salary of $832,500 with a $92,500 signing bonus.
Per CBA rules, he needs three seasons of pro experience to become a restricted free agent upon the expiration of his entry-level deal (as opposed to a 10.2c FA) and needs four to earn arbitration rights.
Once he hits 40 games on the active roster (not games played), he will have accrued one season toward UFA status and would need seven total, possibly getting there by age 26. If he is injured while still on the active roster, those games missed would still count toward the 40.
The Coyotes could still delay when Guenther reaches unrestricted free agency by limiting the games in which he is on the active roster to less than 40 this season. There is a chance that this could happen.
Guenther could very well play for Canada at the World Junior Championship from Dec. 26, 2022 through Jan. 5, 2023 in Halifax and Moncton, Canada. If you also toss in Canada’s training camp, he could be out of the mix for almost a month. If he is injured while on loan at World Juniors, those games do not count toward the 40.
The Coyotes also have the option of sending Guenther to Tucson of the AHL for a two-week conditioning stint when he returns. Those are moves that all teams keep in mind as they manage their cap several seasons into the future. For now, the Coyotes are happy with what they have seen from their goal-scoring wing, whom they chose with the No. 9 overall pick in 2021 after acquiring it in a trade that summer that also brought forwards Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel from Vancouver for defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and forward Conor Garland.
“I really liked the fact that although he was coming off an injury (knee) from the summer, he was ready and he got better every game,” Armstrong said. “He really worked to get back to where he needed to be. He kind of tip-toed around some rookie games and camp but he really got better every game once the season started.
“You can see his thought process and his high-end hockey IQ come out at the NHL level. We’re excited about him. He’s got to continually grow and work through the adjustments and the fact that the game gets harder, but I really like what he has done so far.”