Of the 7,500 players that have suited up for a game in the NHL, only 207 were born in Edmonton. Each of these athletes likely has an impressive story of overcoming adversity and sacrifice, and Dylan Guenther’s tale is no different.
Growing up in the city of champions, Guenther’s love for hockey has been with him for as long as he can remember.
“It’s kind of really all I’ve ever known,” explained Guenther. “Hockey is just, it’s huge here, obviously, and everywhere you go, people are talking about hockey.”
Guenther’s passion from an early age led him to play minor hockey in Sherwood Park, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the commitment from his family.
“My dad and my parents … my grandparents, they all sacrificed a lot of time for me to play,” stated Guenther. “Whether it be before school or on their weekend … they’re getting up early to take me to practice.”
“It’s kind of just my motivation.”
The sacrifices paid off, and at 14, Guenther was playing in the Canadian Sports School Hockey League (CSSHL) for the Northern Alberta Xtreme (NAX) in Edmonton.
During his first year at NAX, Guenther set a U15 CSSHL league record for the most points registered in a season—103 points through 30 games. After a historic year, he was promoted to the U18 club and led the team in goals scored with 32.
When thinking back on his time in the CSSHL, Guenther described his time at NAX as some of his “favourite years of hockey” because of the bonds he formed with his teammates. “You’re with those guys all day. So, some of my best friends are from there.”
Building a legacy in the city of champions
After winning a title with NAX and setting records in the CSSHL, Guenther was drafted first overall in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft by the Edmonton Oil Kings, where he would play for four seasons. “I still remember to this day. My mom and I are kind of just together, and she couldn’t believe it, so it was a pretty cool moment,” he reminisced. “I won’t forget that.”
In Guenther’s first year in the WHL, he scored 26 goals, which earned him a franchise record for most goals scored by a rookie. He still remembers the first time he scored on December 5 at Roger’s Place. After a pass by teammate Jalen Luypen, Guenther found the back of the net for the first time.
“I got a really nice pass. It was a really easy goal, but that was a pretty cool moment.” That goal was one of many for Guenther, as he collected 86 during his tenure in Edmonton.
The Oil Kings seemed destined for a deep playoff run, as Edmonton sat first in the eastern conference with four games remaining before the playoffs. However, in March 2020, the WHL cancelled the rest of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guenther was entering a critical season of his career, so he felt the pressure to continue developing his skills during the pandemic. “I was going into my draft year too, so it was kind of, how can I get better and make sure I come out flying when the season does start.”
“Some days you don’t want to get up and go, and it’s cold out, it’s dark … those are the days you gotta go and try to get better.”
Play resumed in January of 2021, and the Oil Kings finished first in the eastern conference. In the 2022 playoffs, they bested Lethbridge, Red Deer, Winnipeg, and the Seattle Thunderbirds, making them the WHL Champions.
Their desire to win was motivated by a team that would likely see many changes next year. “That was kind of the last year. We all knew, a lot of guys were moving on … we just wanted to give it everything we had.”
Although Guenther would win a championship the following year with the Seattle Thunderbirds, the title he won with Edmonton is still his favourite memory from the WHL.
“Winning that first championship was pretty cool. I mean, that was kind of the highlight of my career … I think winning that and going through everything with them (Edmonton) was, you know, it’s pretty special.”
A year of memories
In addition to an extensive junior hockey resume, the Edmonton-born product has made his mark in the NHL. Drafted ninth overall in the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft by the Arizona Coyotes, Guenther is the second-highest-drafted Oil King in franchise history.
In 2022, Guenther suited up for his first NHL game at TD Garden against the Boston Bruins, with his parents in attendance.
“It’s pretty cool, I mean, especially playing in that rink like it was their home opener … Yeah, I think just a ton of emotions. My parents came down, and it’s just super exciting, and I just wanted to do my best.”
Later that year, Guenther joined the Canadian U20 team for the 2023 World Juniors and scored the gold medal-winning goal in a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory against the Czech Republic.
Days after scoring the golden goal for Canada at the World Juniors, Guenther met his childhood idol, Sidney Crosby.
“It’s really hard to kind of put into words how much that kind of means,” he said. “It’ll stick with me forever.”
Coming off a year where Guenther played in his first NHL game, won a gold medal for Canada and a WHL championship with Seattle, the former Oil King had some advice for young hockey players who may one day want to follow in his footsteps.
“The more you enjoy something, the more you’re going to work at, and the better you’re going to do … these memories will last a long time, along with the friendships, but make sure that you work hard.”