Gordon Monson: A new star — a couple of them, actually — will rise up off the ice in Utah. Learn their names.

In time, Dylan Guenther and Logan Cooley could become the faces of the franchise.

It was Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford’s Sundance Kid who made famous a question uttered multiple times in their classic film about the adventures of the aforementioned outlaws, a question regarding hired hands who were tracking them in a ridiculously persistent and proficient manner, one they could scarcely believe. It’s a question we, too, commence in earnest to answer here about Utah’s new hockey club and the folks who play key roles for it, on it.

“Who are those guys?”

We begin with Dylan Guenther, a young dude whose name you might not yet know all that well, but whose game you’ll want to get to know better, fast. He’s a winger who is likely to lead UHC to whatever future success it will skate down, dig out of the corners and put in the goal — unless his obvious talent blossoms to the point where some other NHL team offers so much in trade value that Utah can’t resist a deal. Guenther wouldn’t want to be singled out as an emerging star like that — there are others emerging, too, he makes clear, including boyish center and line mate Logan Cooley, and an assortment of vets who, he says, “are supportive, helpful, and always trying to improve” — but, oops, too late.

Begin the realization, the acknowledgment now: Guenther and Cooley will be NHL stars, and if we flip the film script, don’t want to overcook this, but they’ll be Utah’s Sundance and Butch.

“He can make plays, I can make plays,” Guenther says.

What the kid-winger really can do is score the puck.

Guenther is quick on the draw and freshly all of 21 years old. Over the second half of last season, when he was just 20, Guenther was the club’s second-leading scorer, filling — and filling out — in a role that Arizona’s team needed and Utah’s team will depend on just as much, moving forward, probably more. In 45 games, after being called up from the minors, he scored 18 goals and 35 points. Thing is, he got better as the weeks rolled by, including 12 goals and 23 points over a 23-game span in March and April. He skates well, handles the puck well, and, to reiterate, the best part is …

“My offensive ability, my shot, getting open, finding my shot, that’s my strength,” he says, after having that pronouncement pried out of him. “It’s compact out there. The players are fast, the game is fast. I have good line mates, and that helps.”

Guenther is fluid on the ice and many observers around the NHL believe he will ascend to the aforementioned top level. Utah Hockey coach Andre Tourigny months ago gave Phoenix reporters elaboration: “Everybody talks about his shooting, OK, it’s obvious. But he has a good stick. He reads the play extremely well. He plays extremely well in his own zone. He sees the play before the play happens. He’s two plays ahead all the time. He plays with a lot of pace offensively, moves his feet and gets in on the forecheck. … He does so many good things, he’s a player who will help your team even when he has a bad game.”

Arizona Coyotes right wing Clayton Keller (9) stops the puck above the ice as Coyotes center Logan Cooley, right, looks on during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Like more than a few embryonic athletic forces, Guenther has a subtle-but-unmistakable confidence, stemming from the fact that he knows he’s ephebic, but also emergent. In NHL years, he’s a pup, but he’s also and already damn good. “You have to have a little swagger,” he says. “You’re going up against the best players in the world, so you have to believe you’re as good or better than they are.”

His awareness doesn’t end there. Two more things: He knows he has more to learn and he knows that if Utah Hockey, or whatever his team will be called in the seasons ahead, is to bridge the gap between standard and stellar, he will be at the forefront of that transformation.

“We have good, young players on this team, mixed with veterans,” he says. “We want to turn it around. We’re excited to be here and to do that. I’m still the young kid. You have to earn your stripes. We have great, veteran players who are leaders. The camaraderie on this team is really good. The beauty of the hockey culture is you have to come together as a team. It’s nice to see how the veterans follow their routine, getting better day by day. It’s cool to learn from them.”

That’s called paying respect, a beautiful hockey tradition in what can be a brutal game. And the vets appreciate the nod, but they are especially cool with Guenther because they recognize that he can help them win.

They’ve seen it.

Additional examples of what Guenther can give are not difficult to find. For instance, over the last four games the Coyotes played, as the team was being burdened and frazzled with information that it would be moved out of Arizona, he tallied four goals. NBD. Previously, while skating for Canada in the Junior World Championships, an annual tournament Guenther calls “sacred” in his home country, he scored the game- and title-clinching goal in overtime against the Czech Republic.

“A really cool moment,” he says.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Miles Tews, 5, has his picture taken with Utah Hockey Club prospects Dylan Guenther and Josh Doan as the Utah Hockey Club hosts their first NHL draft party at the Delta Center on Friday, June 28, 2024.

That’s what Guenther does, what he’s capable of doing. Who he is is another matter.

He was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, the oldest of two hockey-playing sons of Russ and Nadine Guenther. His father is a foreman for a pipe manufacturer and his mother the principal of a school.

Asked who his role models are, who he looks up to, who he patterns his existence after, Guenther, so drenched in hockey from the time he was 7 years old, might have said Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier or Jari Kurri or Connor McDavid.

No. “It’s my mom and dad,” he says, pausing. …

“They sacrificed a lot — time, effort, money — for my hockey career.”

That career began when Guenther, like almost every other human in his hometown, strapped on the skates for the first time as a mere toddler. That’s just what children do in Edmonton, a place where the combination of Gretzky’s game and oil rule the world, where kids flood fields, watch them freeze, smooth them over, set up goals, and skate, day and night.

“Three months of sunshine, nine months of cold,” he says.

Guenther was the same as every other kid, except he wasn’t. He stood out from his friends pretty much from jump. The young one’s skills became evident to the folks up north who pay close attention to those sorts of things.

He was the No. 1 pick in a junior draft of the Edmonton Oil Kings, a Western Hockey League team owned by the big club there, which meant Guenther could conveniently stay at home while honing his game. That’s rather rare in junior leagues across Canada, where young players are scattered here, there, everywhere, living with sponsor families as they pursue their aim of advancement.

Being at home provided comfort for Guenther, but also placed him in plain view of his mom, who as an educator never tamped down her expectations for her son to attach and apply himself as much to the books as he did his skates and stick.

“It was hard, playing and studying,” he says.

The irony is that the discipline required to excel in school mirrored the discipline to master hockey, something he gratefully acknowledges now.

He didn’t mind the studying. He loved the hockey.

Guenther made his way through the juniors before getting drafted by the Coyotes with the ninth overall pick in the NHL draft four years ago, at the age of 17. After bouncing around the bushes for two years, he made the Coyotes at 19. His first NHL game was played in Boston against the Bruins, a memorable moment; his first goal scored came four games later in Ottawa, a more memorable moment.

“Ordinary play,” he says. “I got a nice pass out front, took a quick shot. It was cool. I’d scored that goal a thousand times in my mind, down in my basement when I was a kid.”

Thereafter, Guenther played for the Coyotes, then was sent down to the minors, then was called back up, gaining more and more motivation with each promotion, each demotion. But in January of this year, after getting the last call, he stuck up top, and remained there, cementing his place with each rocket he sent into the goal.

And now he and Cooley are the team’s baby-faced future and its present, even as the team this offseason has made much needed deals to bolster its defense. (Don’t forget the veterans, he urges again.) Yeah, for all the rough stuff involved in and implied about hockey, respect runs deep in the NHL.

“Not just on our team,” he says, “but around the league.”

Guenther adds that he and his teammates are stoked about playing in Salt Lake City. The move was easier for him than some of the older guys with wives and families. “I’m not married,” he says. “I don’t have a girlfriend. I don’t have a life like that, really.”

What he does have is the game he loves and the gifts to play it — and now, the security of a stable environment with a home crowd eager to support a new team that Guenther believes is on the rise. There’s plenty of room for that.

“The city is buzzing,” he says. “This place is beautiful. The people are nice. I’m excited to play here. It’ll be cool playing in a big arena, in front of a big crowd. I can’t wait.”

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