Penguins’ Guentzel Has Emerged as a Top-End Talent

The Pittsburgh Penguins found an absolute gem in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft. With the 77th-overall pick, Jake Guentzel was selected. The long-term solution to play with Sidney Crosby was right in front of their eyes and the Penguins would find that out three years later. After he was drafted in 2013, Guentzel proceeded to head to the University of Nebraska-Omaha for three years in which he played 108 games. During those games, he amassed 40 goals and 79 assists for a total of 119 points as a college athlete. In addition, during that third year at Nebraska, Guentzel later transitioned to the Penguins’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. In his two short seasons in the AHL, he played 44 games while scoring 23 goals and 25 assists for 48 points, which is fantastic for a rookie in the AHL.

Jake Guentzel’s Rookie Season

Guentzel transitioned into the NHL during the 2016-17 NHL season. He scored two goals in his first game ever on Nov. 21, 2016, vs. the New York Rangers. While he only played 40 games, he was able to put up 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points. Out of the 67 rookies that year that played at least 40 games, Guentzel ranked third in the entire NHL with a points per game (P/GP) of .83. The only two players that finished ahead of him were Patrik Laine (.88 P/GP) and Auston Matthews (.84 P/GP).

Jake Guentzel Pittsburgh Penguins
Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Out of all 574 players in the league that played 40 games during this 2016-17 NHL season, Guentzel actually finished first in the NHL in goals per 60 minutes (G/60) with 1.60, and tied for second in the NHL with Connor McDavid in points per 60 minutes (P/60) with 2.89. During his rookie season, Guentzel got the opportunity to play all over the lineup from starting the year with Evgeni Malkin, getting some time on the third line, and then finally finding a place with Crosby on the first line as the season came to an end.

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Guentzel’s first taste of the playoffs came as the Penguins were set to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. While the Penguins went on to defeat the Blue Jackets in five games, Guentzel put up five goals and added an assist, which was an outstanding effort for any player in the NHL, let alone a rookie. After defeating the Nashville Predators in six games, the Penguins became Stanley Cup champions, and Guentzel tore up the league as he finished with 13 goals (first in the NHL). The kid was a star from the get-go.

Present-Day Jake Guentzel

Since the 2019-20 NHL season, Guentzel has been a point-per-game player in the NHL (although he did get 40 goals and 76 points in 82 games during the 2018-19 season). With 196 points in his last 180 games, you can chalk Guentzel up as one of the greats in the league. These numbers are good enough for 25th in the NHL since 2018 and he is also 18th in the NHL with a P/GP of 1.09. He seems to get better with every season as well.

Just this season alone, Guentzel has only played nine games due to an injury in which Kris Letang fired a slapshot directly at his ear. This injury caused him to miss four games, but it hasn’t slowed him down one bit. In those nine games, Guentzel has seven goals and five assists. There has only been two games that he hasn’t scored in, and he is third in the league so far in goals per game, behind McDavid and Bo Horvat.

The most fascinating statistic about Guentzel so far comes when looking at his playoff production. In 58 career playoff games, he has 34 goals. His goals per game in the playoffs ranks second behind the one and only Nathan MacKinnon. In addition, Guentzel has 92 points in his last 82 games. The kid is an all-around star and it’s about time that he gets talked about more around the NHL.

Guentzel and Crosby

The notion around the league that Guentzel is only good because of Sidney Crosby is truly mind-blowing. When you watch his hockey IQ go to work, this couldn’t be further from the truth. He never tries to make the fancy play, but instead makes the simple pass, which leads to quality chances for the team. In addition, the analytics show this critique to be completely wrong. In the 38 games that Guentzel has played without Crosby by his side, he has put up 16 goals and 24 assists for 40 points, which still puts him at over a point per game. In addition, he has nine multi-point games during this time.

While Crosby clearly makes every player better, Guentzel would be a high-end talent without him as well. Guentzel is a very consistent and high-IQ hockey player that is always in the right spot, hardly turns the puck over, and continues to give the Penguins much needed scoring. With his contract coming up in two seasons, the Penguins need to make room and give him what he deserves because he is that good of a hockey player. Hopefully, he remains with the Penguins for the entirety of his career, and I am sure that Crosby wouldn’t be against the idea.

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