CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Jake Guentzel has been in a lot of tough situations on the ice in his relatively brief NHL career, but the Penguins forward is in a situation now that he hasn’t had to deal with until now.
Playing for a contract.
“No pressure. I’m just going to go out and enjoy it and have fun,” Guentzel said. “You’re in the National Hockey League, you’re playing around good players so it’s fun and what happens is going to happen, so you have to get going.”
Guentzel is entering the final year of his three-year rookie deal that paid him $1.925 million in base salary. He will become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights after this season and the Penguins would have the right to match any offer he receives from another team.
In his first two campaigns, the University of Nebraska-Omaha alumnus has been productive with 38 goals and 81 points in the regular season, but it’s been in the playoffs where he has made an indelible mark. As a rookie, he scored 13 goals and chipped in eight assists in the Penguins 2017 Stanley Cup run. He followed that with an impressive 10 goals and 21 points in just 12 games earlier this year when the team was knocked out in the Second Round by the eventual champion Washington Capitals.
To get himself ready for what could be a pivotal season in his career, Geuntzel joined teammates Chad Ruhwedl and Jack Johnson in an informal workout Wednesday with Penguins alumnus Jay Caufield at the Lemieux Sports Complex.
“I’m really excited, and it’s kind of why I’m here,” Guentzel said. “I’m ready to get going already and, to be back in this building, you get that feeling that that’s coming.”
This will be the first time in his professional career that he’s going to camp with a team not coming off a Stanley Cup title. Losing to the rival Capitals was the impetus for him to come in early and get some extra work in before training camp officially opens on Sept. 14.
“I think our main goal is to win no matter what and I think we have that edge now,” Guentzel said. “We saw what happened last year and we don’t what that feeling again so we’ve obviously got to come back again, we know how hard it is and we have to do whatever it takes to get there.”
One key advantage for the Penguins will be having an extra month of rest for the first time since 2015. Lengthy Stanley Cup runs can take their toll and, with a player like Guentzel who played his first full season in the NHL last year after going all the way into June as a rookie, having an extra four-week break may benefit him in the long run.
“I feel good. You have more time in the weight room and definitely more time to recover, so I used it to my advantage and to get back here,” Guentzel said. “It was definitely different than last summer, but for me personally, I think it’s better in the weight room for me. I’m just trying to build as much muscle as I can. I definitely got long again.”
View the full Guentzel media scrum on Pittsburgh Sports Live’s Youtube Channel: