Two days after Christmas, Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jake Guentzel signed a 5-year, $30 million extension to remain in Pittsburgh through the 2023-24 season. The deal makes sure that one of the game’s best younger wingers remains on the same team and line with arguably the best player in the NHL in Sidney Crosby.
Usually, once athletes sign an extension, production is expected to fall off some because that athlete gets long-term financial security and can sort of rest on his laurels a bit, enjoying his new money.
Not with Guentzel.
The 24-year-old winger has poured in 8 goals and 4 assists in the 9 games since the extension was signed, including a hat trick Friday against the Anaheim Ducks, and a 2-goal performance Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings. Too often, Guentzel’s success is credited to having Crosby as his center, but Guentzel has been a driving force offensively as of late for the Penguins.
His shorthanded goal to open Saturday’s game was a thing of beauty, and showed he has a nose for the puck.
Yes, he takes the initial feed from Crosby near center ice, but look at the way he’s able to track the puck after his pass cross-ice to Crosby, tracking it down with a slick backhanded slam into the net, opening the scoring. Guentzel is always in position and nearly always finishes around the net.
The thing that stands out the most with Guentzel is his soft hands around the net, and his quick-twitch shot that flummoxes goaltenders. Here against the Kings on the power play, Guentzel has the soft hands to take this feed from Phil Kessel behind the net, and then the quick-twitch ability to fire the puck high into the top left corner of the net over a sliding Jonathan Quick.
He’s a magician around the net with his hands and he’s taken the next step in his game.
From an outside observation, he looks more confident in his abilities, and is much more assertive offensively. For so long with Crosby, we’ve heard how younger linemates always defer to him and feel that they need to get him the puck. Guentzel has broken that mold, due to his confidence in himself, and the production he’s putting up.
The breakout star winger is on pace for 84 points, on pace for 45 goals and 39 assists, which would be the best season of his career at any professional level, dating back to his start in the USHL with the Sioux City Musketeers.
It’s time to stop saying Guentzel is only good because of Crosby. Those that say that are just box-score scouting and not actually watching what Guentzel does on his own each and every shift. He’s a special player thriving in an environment that has unlocked his full potential. Sit back and enjoy the ride.