Jake Guentzel had a sophomore slump while Patric Hornqvist hit full stride on a line with Evgeni Malkin. Hornqvist makes a living taking a giving a beating in front of the opponent’s net. Guentzel will make a living feeding and finishing from Sidney Crosby. Last season, both had similar points totals, Hornqvist had 49 and Guentzel had 48, and both snipers scored more than 20 goals. Last season, Hornqvist had 29 tallies, and Guentzel had 22.
But who will score more this season?
Guentzel, 23, and Hornqvist, 31, will be vital cogs in the Penguins offensive machine. Despite a historically potent power play, the team struggled to score 5v5 goals. As great as the power play was, the even strength production for most of the season was equally terrible. Both Hornqvist and Guentzel figure to see significant time on Crosby’s line; Guentzel on the left and Hornqvist on the right.
Hornqvist has scored more than 20 goals in each of his four seasons with the Penguins, and last season was his high water mark. His shooting percentage was 11.4 percent, which is on the high side of the normal range. With the Penguins, the rugged Swede has averaged a consistent 236 shots per season and a 10.27 shooting percentage.
Put Hornqvist down for at least 23 goals this season.
Guentzel, entering his third NHL season, is an unknown wildcard, at least in the regular season. The playoff version of Guentzel fills the net with .62 goals per game (23 goals in 37 playoff games). Last season against Philadelphia in Round 1, Guentzel and Crosby were an unstoppable juggernaut. They continued lighting the lamp into Round 2 against Washington.
However, regular season Guentzel looked much different; soft on the wall, lack of attention to defensive detail, and half as much production. Guentzel’s regular season mark is .31 goals per game (38 goals in 122 games). Guentzel’s stats include an eye-popping 19.8 shooting percentage in his 40-game rookie season.
Last season, Guentzel still had a high shooting percentage, 12.9 percent. So, let’s assume despite a low shot total last season, 171, Guentzel can equal his playoff shots per game average, 2.83 shots per game. Over 80 games played, Guentzel should reach about 227 shots, which is a healthy number, and achieve a 12.0 shooting percentage.
Guentzel can easily score at least 27 goals this season.
Last season, Guentzel and Crosby averaged about 1.9 goals per 60 minutes (that they allowed 2.5 goals per 60 should tell you more than you cared to know about Guentzel’s season). Hornqvist and Crosby averaged about 1.45 goals per 60, together. In 2016-17, however, Hornqvist and Crosby posted a staggering 3.82 goals per 60.
All stats courtesy of Naturalstattrick.com’s nifty line tool.
After they were paired at mid-season, Evgeni Malkin and Hornqvist stacked up an impressive 3.28 goals per 60. Extrapolated over the course of a full season, that would put Hornqvist on a 38-goal tear.
In this case, the Penguins lack of left wings will give Guentzel some job security on Crosby’s left side, while the Penguins glut of right-wingers means Hornqvist could be shuffled around the lineup. Hornqvist’s shot total and goal total with the Penguins has remained within consistent levels; never less than 22 goals per season and not more than 29.
Given the Penguins three-deep offensively talented centers including Derick Brassard, Hornqvist should make a serious run at 30 goals and beyond.
Guentzel, on the other hand, could pop 40 goals, or muddle to 20 until spring hockey begins.
The bet here is that Hornqvist will set a career high and surpass his 30-goal best of 2009-10. The Penguins depth of point men on the power play, depth of offensive centers, chemistry with Malkin and Carl Hagelin, and the Washington Capitals rabbit to chase, make Hornqvist a 31-goal scorer.
Guentzel should have a big season, too. This season is Guentzel’s contract year, as PHN detailed a couple of weeks ago, and every 10 points beyond 45 points can mean another million dollars per season. Mark “Jake-n-Bake” for a healthy amount of assists beside Crosby. Some of those assists could be to Hornqvist as head coach Mike Sullivan rolls Hornqvist through the lines trying to find balance.
Guentzel should score more points than Hornqvist this season, and if he maintains a good shot total, he should also hit 30 goals. In this hypothetical horse race with Hornqvist, Guentzel should win by a nose with 33 goals.