It is not exactly a secret that Jake Guentzel has become one of the best wingers in the league. He already has a 40-goal season on his resume and has consistently scored at that rate (per 82 games) for several seasons now. The only thing that has prevented him from adding more 40-goal seasons (maybe even a 50-goal season?) are shortened seasons and injuries.
When healthy, the list of wingers better than him right now probably fits on one hand. He scores, he drives possession, and he is one of the smarter players on the team, always in the right spot and always taking care of his job. The only criticism of him is that by playing next to Sidney Crosby for most of his career he is always going to have that “product of Crosby” label attached to him. But he is an outstanding player on his own merits completely independent of who he plays next to every game. As I have said many times in this space before, a lot of really talented players spent many years and a lot of minutes skating next to Crosby on the Penguins’ top line and never scored at the rate Guentzel does. Actually being able to put the puck in the net matters, and Guentzel is great at it.
Not only is he great at it, he keeps getting better.
He enters Wednesday’s game against the St. Louis Blues as one of the hottest individual players in the NHL.
He is on a 14-game point streak (I do not care how the NHL defines point streaks, he has a point in 14 straight games. That is a 14-game point streak), a goal in five straight games, and is currently scoring goals at a 52-goal pace over 82 games. Across the board his box score numbers are among the best of his career.
It also goes much deeper than just simple goals and total points.
He is generating the most shots on goal of his career, while all of his per-60 shot numbers are at all-time highs.
Observe, via Natural Stat Trick.
Look at the dramatic increase in shots, individual expected goals, shot attempts, and scoring chances. Not only are they all career highs (and in some cases by a significant margin) he is absolutely crushing what he did even a year ago when he was still a point-per-game player and scored 23 goals in 56 games (still a 34-goal pace per 82 games).
That is what makes his start so encouraging. He has 16 goals in 25 games and it is not anything really unsustainable given his shot volume and percentages. His overall shooting percentage for the season is within one percentage point of his career average, and while his 5-on-5 mark is a little higher than his career average, it is a level he has shot at previously in his career.
The increased shot volume is the key. He is not only getting more pucks on net, he is directing more pucks at the net, and that is obviously the biggest factor in scoring goals. Especially for a player with a shot as good and quick as Guentzel’s. Put him in position to get them, get a shoot-first mentality from him, and you have a combination for a monster season offensively.
The team impacts are just as strong as the Penguins are generating even more offense as a team with him on the ice.
By every objective measure Guentzel is one of the league’s best players, and has been one of the best draft finds in franchise history for the Penguins. He is also a big reason their ability to contend for a championship is still sitting there in front of them in the short-term.