Jake Guentzel is a coach’s son. His father Mike was a long-time assistant coach at the hockey blue blood University of Minnesota. Guentzel grew up in hockey and thinks the game at a level that allows him to skate seamlessly beside the game’s best centers, including Sidney Crosby. Still, the Pittsburgh Penguins winger is not among the highest-paid wingers, nor do NHL lists often rank him with the premier wingers.
But the story is just beginning. It’s time to start placing Guentzel in the conversation among the best wingers in the game. Like Marian Hossa before him, Guentzel has a sharp two-way game. And, he scores goals—lots of them.
In November, the NHL Network ranked Guentzel the 20th best winger behind J.T. Miller (17th), Blake Wheeler (11th), and Patrick Kane (5th). The lower ranking is neither surprising nor a new development when placing Guentzel among the NHL’s best.
Placing Guentzel 20th is low for a player with Guentzel’s statistics. Instead, it’s a matter of reputation and “buzz.” Other players are stars on their team or stand out. Despite being selected for his first NHL All-Star Game last season, Guentzel dutifully toils in Sidney Crosby’s shadow.
A regular-season ending shoulder injury caused Guentzel to miss the ASG, however.
Guentzel’s contract is a bargain, too. Only 16 players in the last two seasons have scored 40 goals, and his six-year, $36 million payday makes Guentzel the third-lowest paid 40-goal scorer in the NHL (who isn’t on an ELC). Only Cam Atkinson ($5.875 million) and Mika Zibanejad ($5.3 million) make less.
Guentzel popped 40 goals in 76 games in 2018-19. He scored 20 more in just 39 games last season.
The Pittsburgh Penguins 2013 third-round draft pick never had the pure pedigree of Kane, Patrik Laine, or Johnny Gaudreau, who ranked 16th on the NHL Network’s list. Instead, Guentzel has become the Robin to Crosby’s Batman, and the two have formed a consistent, dangerous Penguins top line without a consistent RW to complete the trio.
This season, the Penguins expect newly acquired Kasperi Kapanen to become the third leg of the stool, and the numbers should grow.
Though NaturalStatTrick.com clearly shows how well Guentzel performs compared to those “name brands.” Guentzel is tied for ninth with 44 goals at even strength since the start of the 2018-19 season.
Jake Guentzel EV Goals:
As you can see, Guentzel slots with Nikita Kucherov, who won the 2019 Hart Trophy, and David Pastrnak, who won the 2020 Rocket Richard trophy. You’ll also notice Artemi Panarin and Brad Marchand finished 14th and 15th, respectively.
At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Guentzel is neither physically imposing or a physical standout. As Guentzel was chasing rookie playoff scoring records in 2017, hockey analyst Ray Ferraro spoke with our colleague Adrian Dater.
“He doesn’t look lucky. I like his game,” said Ferraro. “He’s slippery along the boards, as his size is something he’s had to work around. He doesn’t get pinned much. He’s got a very quick release.”
In the last two seasons, Guentzel has filled the net. That time frame includes his forgettable turn as an NHL center when the Penguins were desperate and strapped for a legit third-line center.
Shoot First Mentality, Finally
The Penguins turned to Guentzel because he was a playmaker at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He played some center at the collegiate and professional level. But coaches spent years pleading with Guentzel to shoot the puck.
Yes, even the coaches were yelling, “shoot!”
“I always wanted him to shoot more. I told him a million times, ‘Shoot the damn puck,’ but it was like pulling teeth,” Guentzel’s college coach Dean Blais told Dater back in 2017. “It just wasn’t the natural thing for him. He looked for the pass first, and he was a great playmaker, don’t get me wrong.”
Even Guenztel’s father, Mike Guentzel, who is now a scout for the Arizona Coyotes, chimed in about getting Guentzel to let it rip.
“I say, ‘Show me you can shoot the puck,’ ” Mike told USA Today’s Kevin Allen in 2017. “I give him a hard time all the time … show me you can shoot one in.”
Guentzel’s 180-degree turn from a pass-first playmaker to a sniping goal scorer is complete. Some questions lingered about Guentzel’s ability to light the lamp if not playing beside Crosby. Perhaps those were laid to rest last season during Crosby’s extended injury absence. Guentzel filled the net in even greater numbers playing beside Evgeni Malkin.
With Guentzel beside Crosby, the Penguins scored 13 even-strength goals.
With Guentzel beside Malkin, the team scored 22 even-strength goals.
Malkin vaulted among the NHL scoring leaders, and the Pittsburgh Penguins were a juggernaut despite the injury list, which could have been a lengthy scroll.
The results don’t lie, and, unlike past Crosby wingers, Guentzel has proven his success isn’t dependent on No. 87. A top 10 ranking this season should cover it.
Yes, Jake Guentzel is among the best.