There was a 15-20 year stretch in the NHL where the 50-goal (and 100-point) scorer seemed to be an endangered species, if not completely extinct. The game had become a defensive, goaltending slugfest where every game was a 2-1 or 3-2 slog through the neutral zone. There might be one, maybe two, players that would have even a realistic shot of even approaching the 50-goal mark.
Over the past couple of years, though, that might be starting to change a little bit.
Offense is back to a certain extent, and just last year we saw four different players reach the 50-goal mark.
Could Jake Guentzel potentially join that group this season? Or a future season? And what would it take for him to get there?
Honestly, it does not seem like that much of a stretch.
Guentzel has already been one of the league’s top goal scorers the past four-five years and has consistently scored at a 40-goal pace per 82 games (even though he has rarely had a chance to actually play in 82 games).
His 82-game paces going back to the start of the 2018-19 season:
That’s not really that far off, especially this past season and it would not really require that much of a jump in his play.
There are two essential things he would need though.
The first is a full 82-game season, something he has had just two times in his career. The other four seasons of his career have been disrupted by being in the minors to start his career, some pandemic seasons, and injury.
The second is just a small uptick in either shooting percentage or his shot volume.
Guentzel is already a high percentage shooter, only once in his career finishing a season lower than 15 percent (his low-point for his career is 12.9 percent, which is still pretty high). That is a combination of him having a fantastic shot, a quick release, and always being around the net no matter how much of a beating he takes.
For his career, Guentzel has been around a 2.70-2.80 shots per game player. Over 82 games that is between 220 and 230 shots on goal. At that rate he would need to have a year where he absolutely shoots the lights out and goes above 20 percent for the season. He has only had one year where he even came close to that (19.8 percent in his rookie year), while there have have only been four instances in the salary cap era where a player played 82 games in a season and shot over 20 percent for the season (Leon Draisaitl, William Karlsson, Brad Boyes, and Loui Eriksson — how about that list?).
That seems like a stretch.
The more realistic avenue is increased shot volume. That is where it gets interesting for Guentzel because he did improve that this past season, averaging 3.47 shots on goal per game, the second time in three years he topped the 3.25 mark.
Averaging between 3.25 and 3.50 shots per game gets you between 266 and 287 shots over 82 games. That shot rate would only require around a 17 to 18 percent shooting percentage to hit the 50-goal mark. Both of those numbers are well within reach for Guentzel and would not take that much of an increase in either category.
Given Guentzel’s ability, the changing nature of the game over the past couple of years, and a further emphasis on offense it is definitely something within reach. And it would be a pretty big deal.
The 50-goal mark is pretty rare in Penguins history, having been reached by just nine different players.
Mario Lemieux got there six times, Jaromir Jagr and Kevin Stevens got there two times, while Jean Pronovost, Mike Bullard, Rick Kehoe, Pierre Larouch, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby each got there one time. Nobody has done it since Malkin during the 2011-12 season.
Guentzel is their next best shot. He has been within striking distance a couple of times, including this past season, and with a little bit of luck could join that exclusive list. He has already established himself as one of the great goal scorers in franchise history and hitting that single season milestone would cement his status near the top.