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Jake Guentzel has a huge season ahead of him

Guentzel has an opportunity this season to prove once and for all that he’s the real deal.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off an outstanding, 40-goal campaign in 2018-19, Jake Guentzel has officially set expectations sky high for himself as the new season begins.

Funnily enough however, Guentzel was—for the longest time—infamously known around the league as just another average player Sidney Crosby lifted to new heights. It seemed like it didn’t matter how many goals he scored, what postseason records he broke, how long his scoring streaks reigned supreme as the playoffs continued on without his Penguins in the race, Guentzel could never seem to garner the respect he deserved. He was thought of as ordinary, young, unexperienced, and a myriad of other “average” synonyms to those outside of Pittsburgh. Convincing folks otherwise was a pipe dream and consistently fell on deaf ears as long as he was attached to Crosby’s flank.

Now, with that gargantuan 2018-19 performance in his arsenal, Guentzel has proved he’s more than just Crosby’s understudy — he’s a legitimate top-six winger with an innate scoring touch that ranks among the NHL’s elite.

With Phil Kessel now out of the picture, Guentzel has a major opportunity awaiting him. He will continue to be utilized as the ying to Crosby’s yang on the left side of the top-line surely, but what’s more, he’ll be eating up Kessel’s surrendered first power play team minutes as well. That could potentially balloon Guentzel’s already outrageous numbers if he can increase his goals just a tick with a few more coming on the man advantage.

Not only will Guentzel’s skill set be showcased on the PP1, he’ll also look to fine-tune his stellar 5-on-5 goal scoring prowess this season too. In 2018-19, Guentzel was one of only two players to tally 30 goals at even strength. The other guy? Just some chump named John Tavares. To boot, that 5-on-5 sniper ability rode shotgun to a 16 percent shooting percentage. Guentzel was an absolute machine for the Penguins.

This all may go to show that what we saw from Guentzel last season was only a taste of him getting started. He is genuinely blossoming into a star in Pittsburgh, and with core players like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang to use as additional thrusters on offense, Guentzel just might sneak into that mix and prove he’s a part of that superstar group in his own right.