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Jake Guentzel thriving even without Sidney Crosby

Guentzel wrecking all kinds of narratives out here

NHL: NOV 25 Flames at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In a way, the narratives write themselves because they’re so easy. Jake Guentzel was a mid-round draft pick. He didn’t play for Team USA growing up. He weighed about 150 pounds on draft day. He went to college in Nebraska. Outside of diehard Pittsburgh or prospect fans, no one had any reason to ever even know his name until the age of 23.

Not exactly the typical pedigree of one of the most lethal goal scorers in the NHL, so it was easy to excuse him away, even when Guentzel showed up in 2016-17 and led the NHL playoffs in goals that season as the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.

Guentzel was a byproduct of Sidney Crosby. Mainly (or only) scoring because of the opportunities afforded to a linemate of Sid.

And while there’s no doubt it’s true that Crosby helps good players and boosts the numbers of his linemates, Guentzel is showing even without his usual center that the goals haven’t dried up.

Guentzel has a nice and tidy 12 goals in 24 games this season, on pace for 41. This comes one year after a 40-goal season. There’s a consistency in those numbers, as there is with all of Guentzel’s game. It’s just so solid and doing exactly what it should be at all times. Guentzel’s also in impressive company for goals since the start of the 2018-19 season.

The high shots on goal (which are actually up with Crosby in a small sample) is impressive too. Guentzel is firing 3.42 shots/game this season, up from 2.77 last year. That might not sound like a lot but last year Guentzel only had 227 total SOG, which ranked tied-39th in the NHL. For 2019-20, he’s currently tied-16th in shots and on pace for 280 in a full season.

That’s a dramatic improvement and putting that sort of volume on net also represents an update to the narrative to show that Guentzel can and is consistently getting to dangerous zones and shooting the puck with heavy frequency.

Of course, now Guentzel is playing mostly with Evgeni Malkin, no slouch himself when it comes to generating scoring chances, but Guentzel’s success isn’t reliant on his center. In fact, like on this highlight, the ability of Guentzel’s vision, playmaking and touch creates a chance that Malkin converts into a goal.

Guentzel’s OT goal last night (with no Malkin on the ice, mind you) was a perfect display of patience and then power, ripping a shot through a defender and past the goalie after getting into open space to deftly receive a pass, negotiate the blueline and let skill takeover.

After signing a big contract and putting up 40 goals, it was fair to wonder what was next as an encore for Guentzel. Even without Crosby for the past few weeks, nothing has changed for No. 59 when it comes to finding ways to fill the net.

Might be time to update those narratives now.