Jake Guentzel has risen pretty quickly through the ranks within the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. He’s talented, for sure, but is he ready for prime time? Determining the answer to that question is going to be a driver for not only his role in the short-term but also how general manager Jim Rutherford might behave on deadline day.
A Missing Piece Found
Long before injuries took hold of the Penguins, it was widely assumed that Guentzel might play a role during the remainder of the regular season. That role wasn’t expected to be much, perhaps a few games here and there as needed while shuttling back-and-forth between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh.
He’s impressed with his play and even though he hasn’t lit up the score sheet recently, he has developed impressive chemistry with Evgeni Malkin on the second line. A winger hadn’t looked that comfortable playing alongside Malkin since the days of James Neal.
And while Guentzel settled in with Malkin, Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust looked to do much of the same on a line with Sidney Crosby. Pairing competent wingers with Crosby and Malkin is something new to Pittsburgh. The top two lines suddenly boast youth and look devastatingly dangerous.
The video below is Guentzel’s most recent goal.
Rutherford in Unrest
There’s rumbling in Pittsburgh that while Rutherford is not unhappy with the current state of the Penguins, he also is getting that itchy trigger finger when it comes to making a trade.
Last year, Rutherford didn’t make any moves at the deadline, opting instead to make some significant moves before and during the season to improve and motivate the Pens. Ultimately, those moves paid off.
You can bet that while he’s ever looking to the future, he’s fondly recalling how he crafted a team into a Stanley Cup winner. And doing so involved making some moves.
The Penguins’ roster remains largely the same as it was at this point last year.
The Guentzel Decision
Should he stay or should he go?
Guentzel won’t be traded. I’d like to make that clear.
If he stays, the Pens likely won’t try to acquire a top-six wing on the trade market. There’d be no need. Sheary will return in a month. A top-six wing won’t want to come to Pittsburgh to play third or fourth line minutes anyway.
If Guentzel just isn’t ready for the intensity of the NHL playoffs, that isn’t admitting defeat. He’s only 22 years old and has done incredibly well during his extended stay with the big club. He’ll go back to the Baby Pens, have a tremendous second-half of the season, and lead a deep playoff run.
But if he does go, look for Rutherford to make some kind of acquisition to address his departure. Rutherford won’t sleepwalk into the playoffs if his talented young winger takes his talents back to Wilkes-Barre.