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It might not have been the prettiest goal Dylan Guenther has ever scored, but it was a memorable one.
Not only did his second tally on the way to a first-period hat-trick stand as the game winner in Tuesday’s commanding 10-1 win over the Winnipeg Ice in front of more than 7,000 screaming students in attendance at the annual Hockey Hooky Day, it also gave him the club’s modern day record for goals scored by a rookie.
The 16-year-old Edmonton product had just been knocked to the ice in front of the crease when a shot from linemate Jake Neighbours deflected off of him and in.
Fortunately, for anyone looking for something more highlight-reel worthy, Guenther provided a couple of other options before the opening 20 minutes were through, earning four first-period points to capture a franchise record in that department, too.
“Just confidence knowing I can be a super impactful player in this league and this team, so that’s a good start for my career, I think,” said Guenther, who has set a new benchmark for future first-year Oil Kings with 25 goals and 56 points with nine regular-season games still to go. “I’m definitely not going to take my foot off the gas, but just taking the game one by one and keep working hard out there.”
Drafted first overall by the Oil Kings following a 2017-18 season with the Canadian Sports School Bantam Hockey League’s Northern Alberta Xtreme bantam prep, which saw him register 56 goals and 103 points, along with 22 penalty minutes in just 30 games played, becoming the best rookie to ever wear Oil Kings colours wasn’t the first thing on his mind during his introductory eight games as a 15-year-old fresh out of midget hockey.
“No, I just come in, work hard, take it day by day and then things just fall into place, I think,” Guenther said. “That’s the best way to approach it.”
None of it would be possible, of course, without Neighbours and fellow linemate Riley Sawchuk.
“We communicate lots on the bench and we talk about plays and strategies we can do to find more opportunities,” said Guenther, whose Oil Kings are perched atop the Eastern Conference standings. “So, yeah, a ton of credit to them.”
It’s not every game a player hears his name called out over the arena sound system for not one but two rookie records in the same game.
“Oh, I can get used to that, I guess, hey?” Guenther smiled. “But, no. It feels really good and that’s awesome.”
But it also begs the question, what is there left for a rookie to do?
“I think just getting better every day,” he said. “I’m not putting a number or anything on that, but just improving every practice and keep working my hardest.”
While there have been ups and downs along the way, Guenther has really come into his own after donning the Maple Leaf with Team Canada White during the 2019 World under-17 hockey challenge in Medicine Hat and Swift Current, which served as a reminder of what he can do among players his own age.
And he’s been able to transition more of that game to his WHL exploits.
“It’s been coming for him all season, I think he’s progressively gotten better as the year’s gone on. And that’s what you want to do as a rookie, I think,” said Neighbours, whose 66 points in 59 games is attracting the attention of NHL clubs, including the Edmonton Oilers. “He’s done a great job of it, he’s easy to play with and, obviously, his skill is showcased every shift.
“He’s done it every year of his career. I think he’s had a hundred-and-something (points) last year in midget. I think he’s kind of assumed that role that he’s been given now and he’s just grown with it. It’s coming to him a bit easier now.”
The fact that Guenther plays on the top line as part of a trio who sit one, two and three in team points scoring speaks volumes for what his coaches think.
“He’s been playing well for us, that line’s played well for us and it’s good to see guys that work hard get rewarded,” said head coach Brad Lauer. “The biggest thing with him is just the maturity of his game. And it’s all around, whether it’s understanding the D-zone coverage or just his intelligence offensively to see plays and make plays.
“For a young man to have a shot like he does, he’s got one of the best shots on our team.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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