While outside expectations are not high for the Arizona Coyotes this season, the players themselves are going out every night to win games. The Desert Dogs did just that earlier this week in Toronto with a 4-2 victory over the Maple Leafs, their first win of the season.
But no matter how many games the Coyotes win or lose, the rebuilding squad will get value out of this season - whether that's in the form of a high draft pick, development or both.
One of the players who stands to get valuable development time is right winger Dylan Guenther, already getting time on a scoring line in Arizona. The 19-year-old is soaking in the experience and keeping an eye on veteran teammates such as Christian Fischer, Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz during both practice and games.
"You can learn stuff from everyone," Guenther said. "For me, defensive play is a big one - to get to the next level you have to be reliable and the coach has to trust you. So watching a guy like 'Fisch,' he has such a good stick and is so good defensively. Then offensive guys like 'Kells' and 'Schmaltzy,' just how creative they are and how they see the ice - you can learn things every day."
Given Arizona's depth chart last season, there's an argument to be made that the 6-foot-2, 181-pound sniper might have been able to contribute last year after he was drafted ninth overall by the team. Instead, he returned to the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings for a third campaign and dominated with 45 goals and 91 points in 56 games. During the playoffs, he tied for first in team scoring with 21 points in 13 games en route to a WHL championship - the type of experience every prospect could use.
"In Edmonton we had three good teams there and to go all the way and to know what it's like to win and know how to pay the price to win, that's super-valuable," he said. "It's not easy to win in any league."
Now starting off his NHL career, Guenther has those lessons under his belt and is trying to help quiet all the outside pessimism about the Coyotes.
"One thing that has been brought up from the top is to get one percent better every day," he said. "We're looking to get better every day and never be complacent."
Though he has only played a couple of real NHL games so far, Guenther has already found a fan in his new bench boss, Andre Tourigny. The coach was effusive in his praise of the rookie during post-game availability in Toronto.
"I might be here until tomorrow morning if I say everything I like about him," Tourigny said. "Everyone knows he's a shooter and an offensive player - OK, good, we've got that covered. But he's way more than that. He'll take his guy defensively, he'll run obstruction, he'll create time and space for his teammates. Look at the number of times he goes to the net and screens the goalie. I know it's a cliche, but he plays the game the right way."
Perhaps most importantly, the coach sees a young man who checks all the boxes in terms of skills and mindset. According to Tourigny, all Guenther needs right now is time to physically grow.
"There's nothing in his game that I see on video and say 'OK, he needs to figure that out,' " he said. "No, no, no. He just needs to be stronger and faster and time will take care of that. There are 'if' players - if they figure it out, if they get better. He's a 'when' player: When he gets stronger, when he gets faster. We're really fortunate to have him."
In the meantime, Guenther will continue to soak in the experience in Arizona - and try to use that great shooting ability to get some goals on the board for the Coyotes.