Breakout Candidate: Pittsburgh Penguins Jake Guentzel

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 13: Pittsburgh Penguins center Jake Guentzel (59) skates towards the play during the Pittsburgh Penguins versus the Montreal Canadiens game on October 13, 2018, at Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Last season, Jake Guentzel was a powerhouse for the Pittsburgh Penguins throughout the playoffs but had his share of struggles during the regular season. Its a pivotal year for the young star, and so far he’s off to a good start.

Jake Guentzel Looking at A Huge Year

During his first full season in the NHL, Guentzel finished as one of the Penguins top scorers. When you factor in his breakout playoff numbers, he played a massive hand in carrying the offense. Despite having a few cold spells, he rounded out the regular season with 22 goals and 26 assists for 48 points. His consistency left something to be desired, however.

Fast forward to the playoffs, and he just absolutely exploded. Regular season Guentzel and playoff Guentzel seemed to be two different players. He notched 10 goals and 11 assists in only 12 games. Looking back at the 2016-17 postseason, and he had 13 goals for 21 points. The playoff production that he has brought to the table has been off the charts. Another notable player in NHL history to rack 10+ goals in his first two postseason appearances is Mario Lemieux. Not exactly bad company to be in. Now he’s aiming to prove himself as more than just a playoff star.

Significant Off-Season Strides

Going into the off-season, Guentzel seemed to have a new mindset. He chose a new trainer over the summer and altered his workout to improve his stability and flexibility.  He also revamped his diet and sleep schedule. The young forward was hoping that by overhauling his lifestyle, he will be more focused and it will translate onto the ice. This could lead to the consistency needed for him to become the regular season standout he desires to be.

Over the summer, he also participated in Da Beauty League, Minnesota’s summer hockey hub. The league boasts a mixture of different levels of talent, and Guentzel was as impressive as you would expect him to be. He played seven games for DBL’s team TRIA and bagged 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points. It may not have been NHL level play, but Guentzel still showed his potential to put up impressive numbers.

The young forward also had a solid preseason performance, logging three assists in four games. At this point, he’s expecting all of the changes he’s made in the offseason to pay off.

Heading Into a Pivotal Season

The reality of Guentzels situation is that right now in Pittsburgh he’s young, cheap talent. However, it’s his last year on his entry-level contract, so he’s got something to prove. The Pens undoubtedly want to keep him with the team. What sort of deal they offer him will depend on his regular season production, and Guentzel knows it. Coming off of a hot playoff run, expectations are high. He’s already off to a good start, with five goals in eight games. He needs to keep the forward momentum going.

A key factor to this will be avoiding the chunks of ten and eleven goalless games he had last year. As a player, he’s developed nicely with the team. Guentzel came out of the 2013 NHL draft as a third-round pick, virtually a nobody. Pittsburgh hit the jackpot with him. He fits well with the team, and he’s a fan favourite across the board. Most notably is his chemistry with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. There’s been much back and forth about the “Crosby factor” when it comes to Guentzels production. It is clear that when he’s on the top line with Crosby, he plays at a different level. Of course, this could be said of almost any player who would end up on Crosby’s wing. Guentzel’s performance though has earned him more time on the top line.

Moreover, when he’s not with Crosby, he tends to falter a little. Exactly how much of his production is Crosby-driven is still a mystery. However, it does speak volumes to Guentzel as a player that you can put him on a line with such an elite player, and the youngster can meet the high expectations. It’s great that he can handle himself playing alongside someone at that level, but he needs to show that he is consistent when he’s not paired up with the most talented player on the team as well.

In the end, its a career-making season for Guentzel. He has the potential to put up some impressive numbers this year, and if he can meet those expectations, then he’s sure to see a substantial contract offer over the summer.

 

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