As PHNX Sports speculated would likely happen, the Coyotes have officially loaned forward Dylan Guenther to Hockey Canada for the IIHF World Junior Championship, the team announced on Thursday. Guenther left the team right after playing against the Oilers in his hometown of Edmonton on Wednesday; a game that concluded the Coyotes’ NHL record-tying 14-game road trip.
“You like to see your prospects under the fire, whether that’s playing for a national championship in college, or playing for a Memorial Cup in juniors, or playing in international competitions,” Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong said. “You like to see them in those pressure situations because you find out a lot about them and they really tend to grow from them.
“We had it in St. Louis with Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou. When those guys went to the World Junior Championship, it really made a difference for them. It adds confidence, but not only that, it puts them into situations where they’re competing for a championship. We’re trying to grow our team into a championship team, but at this point, we’re not going to be playing for a championship. So we have a chance to put Dylan in a pressure situation where he’s playing for his country for a month, and he’s got a chance to win a championship. We want him to add that to his experience and his knowledge base about how to play in those situations.”
On Monday, Hockey Canada announced the 29 players who had earned an invitation to Canada’s National Junior Team selection camp, set for Dec. 9-12 at the Avenir Centre in Moncton. Guenther’s name was not on the list, but it was widely expected that players such as Guenther, Seattle Kraken center Shane Wright and LA Kings prospect Brandt Clarke would be added, and Hockey Canada senior vice president of hockey operations Scott Salmond confirmed that there was still room to add players to the roster.
Selection camp includes practices and two games against the U SPORTS (Canadian university) all-stars on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12. Canada will name its final roster on Dec. 12. The 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. in Halifax and Moncton.
“Dylan wasn’t able to play in the first World Juniors because of COVID, or in the second one because of an injury that occurred during the season so this does give him a final shot to play,” Armstrong said.
Guenther has played 21 of the Coyotes’ 24 games this season. Once he played his 10th game, that meant that 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 he 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 unrestricted free agent 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. With his participation in the World Junior Championship, there is an outside chance that this could happen.
Assuming that Canada makes a run to the medal round, Guenther will miss 14 Coyotes games during the event, and likely at least one or two additional games just to get some rest after the tournament.
The Coyotes also have the option of sending Guenther to Tucson of the AHL for a two-week conditioning stint when he returns, which could eat up nine or 10 more games and would push the Coyotes near the 50-game mark of the season.
Finally, the Coyotes could choose to send Guenther back to the WHL to allow him to play meaningful games late in the season and get the experience of another run to a WHL title and possibly a Memorial Cup berth. Guenther’s contract rights would be a hot commodity in the WHL. The rebuilding Edmonton Oil Kings, who owned the worst winning percentage in the WHL as of Wednesday, would love to trade Guenther’s rights to a contender to jump start their rebuild with acquired assets. Kamloops and Winnipeg are among the teams believed to have interest in acquiring Guenther’s rights.
A return to the WHL seems unlikely, however. The WHL trade deadline is Jan. 10, five days after the gold-medal game at the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championship, and players at the WJC can’t be traded during the event. The most likely scenario is that Guenther will return to the Coyotes at some point after the WJC and play out the season, perhaps getting some games off to manage his schedule since he is not accustomed to playing such a lengthy season.
Guenther has three goals and 11 points this season with the Coyotes, which was tied for 10th among NHL rookies. All three of his goals and five of his points have come on the power play.
After Wednesday’s game, Guenther stayed with his family in Edmonton. He will report to Canada’s selection camp on Friday.
Top photo of Dylan Guenther via Getty Images
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