If people still read physical newspapers regularly, Jake Guentzel would look like the kid that delivers it to your house. He’s not physically imposing in the least bit.
Jake Guentzel doesn’t have a fantastic wrist shot, like teammate Phil Kessel. He doesn’t have a quick release like Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets. He doesn’t park himself of the net like Patrik Hornqvist, either.
Guentzel just racks up points once the postseason starts. After last night’s two goals in the 3-1 win over the Capitals, he has entered a special stratosphere of postseason goal scoring:
NHL all time postseason goal per game leaders:
Mario Lemieux — 0.710
Mike Bossy — 0.659
Jake Guentzel — 0.657
Barry Pederson — 0.647
Rocket Richard — 0.617
Cam Neely — 0.613
Wayne Gretzky — 0.587
Pavel Bure — 0.547
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) May 4, 2018
Aside from perhaps scratching your head over Barry Pederson (shout out to the 80’s Canucks jerseys, which I love unconditionally), that is a who’s who of all-time NHL greats.
It would have been very easy for Jake Guentzel to be discounted as a flash in the pan after his splashy midseason debut last year. Not many rookies come up from the minors and put up 33 points (16 goals-17 assists) in just 40 games. It’s not common, but it has happened before. But then Guentzel carried it into the 2016-17 postseason and was a legitimate Conn Smythe candidate at times last year, even with a quiet Eastern Conference Finals of zero goals and two assists. He still lead the postseason in goals with 13 and put up 21 points in 25 games.
This year’s regular season did not have as much production from Guentzel as anticipated. I’m not sure everyone else was expecting, but just 22 goals and 26 assists in a full 82 games wasn’t it. At times, he was taken off of Crosby’s line for stretches of games. Not even the youthful Guentzel was exempt from the malaise that settled over this team for the better part of the regular season.
But when the stage lights burn brighter, here comes Jake Guentzel. In the first round, the Flyers treated team defense as a suggestion, not a requirement, and he took full advantage of it. His 13 points (6 goals-7 assists) in six games could be discounted by the fact the Flyers were completely overmatched. Guentzel’s four-goal explosion in Game Six ensures that he will enter the vast Villains of Philly Pantheon.
Surely, things would tighten up against their bitter rivals and division champs, the Capitals. Uh, no? With 4 goals and 4 assists in the four games so far, Guentzel has maintained his ridiculous 2 points/game pace in these playoffs. His 21 points lead the NHL playoffs. For perspective, 21 points would have been fourth highest in all of the 2016-17 playoffs…the total put up by Jake Guentzel last year.
He doesn’t have a certain area of the ice that is his preferred spot to score. He’ll clean up the garbage on the doorstep, like his first goal last night. Or he’ll get a deflection in the center cut of the slot, like in Game 1 against the Capitals. When the puck is on his stick, there’s a crazy high chance it’s going in. Players don’t typically have shot percentages of 25% and 33.3% in their first two postseasons, like Guentzel does.
It would be reductive to just say that he’s doing this because he’s on Crosby’s line. Plenty of players have graced Crosby’s wings over the years, both regular season and postseason, and we haven’t seen production like this before. Is it sustainable? Who knows? But for now, Jake Guentzel has been the star of these playoffs for the Penguins. In their past two Cup-winning postseasons, the Penguins have relied on multiple players to carry them through the grind of the Stanley Cup playoffs. In this edition, it’s Guentzel’s turn and he doesn’t really seem to have much interest in giving up the mantle.