As the weather continues to turn warmer, we as fantasy hockey managers are forced to begin the mighty task of projecting into the next fall and beyond. With that never-ending forecasting comes many opinions and debates that easily abound, and right now, there doesn’t appear to be a more polarizing fantasy asset than Jake Guentzel.
The 22-year-old rookie with a mere 55 career games under his belt has taken the scoresheets and message boards by storm by compiling some impressive numbers during his brief stint in the NHL. It has people wondering if he’s simply the product of Sidney Crosby’s greatness or is he a burgeoning premier asset that should be targeted without hesitation?
This week on Frozen Pool Forensics, we’ll dig into the youngest member of the Pittsburgh Penguins and find out how Guentzel's production has transpired, and what we can expect from him moving forward.
Guentzel has always been a little underrated. He was drafted in the fourth round of the USHL draft back in 2010 and then in the third round, 77th overall, back in 2013 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
During his draft-eligible season, Guentzel was generously listed at 5’10 and 160 lbs. That didn’t stop him from terrorizing USHL goaltenders, but it did help him slip down many draft boards.
Three years at the University of Nebraska-Omaha produced 119 points in 108 mostly-weekend-contests. That schedule facilitated many weekday hours in the weight room and helped push the skinny kid from Minnesota into an area of strength that would allow him to compete in the professional ranks.
A quick stop in the American league last spring saw him produce 14 points in 10 playoff games and look every bit the part of top prospect. He followed that up by leading the league in goals and points-per-game for the first half of the season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before finally being recalled to Pittsburgh for good early in January.
A tenacious and skillful player, the true compliment bestowed upon Guentzel is his ability to think the game at a high level. His speed, hands and quick release are obvious talents, but his vision, anticipation and processing skills are through the roof. It’s likely his best weapon in adapting his play to correspond alongside Sidney Crosby.
Making the Most of an Opportunity
You’ve all likely seen the clip a few times by now, but it’s terrific each time you witness it. The reaction of Guentzel’s family as he scores on his first NHL shot and follows that up with another goal a few shifts later is that of pure bliss.
It's a good day to be a Guentzel. pic.twitter.com/cp8SrHVkUc— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 22, 2016
The magical start was a tasty teaser of what was to come. While it took a little time to truly get his feet under him in the NHL after the initial adrenaline wore off, coach Mike Sullivan praised the youngster for his ability to play with all-world talents like Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Crosby while continuing to play his game and not simply defer to the superstars. Sullivan was impressed with how everyone else on the team wanted to play with him.
The results have been tangible. Through a half season, Guentzel racked up 16 goals and 33 points. That 0.83 point-per-game output ranks as the third best amongst first-year players and sits tied for 35th league wide. He shares that spot with Henrik Zetterberg and Max Pacioretty and ahead of such stars as T.J. Oshie, Jonathan Toews, Nikolaj Ehlers and Mitch Marner.
It’s easy to look at the 19.6 percent shooting percentage and think this is a player destined to see some negative regression, and while it is true that he won’t be able to maintain such a lofty rate, Guentzel has been an efficient shooter throughout his career. He recorded 21 goals on just 98 shots taken in the AHL to begin the year – good for a 21.4 percent clip.
Zooming out a little further…
In 88 combined regular season & playoff games this season in AHL/NHL, Jake Guentzel has scored 46 goals on 209 shots (22% rate). #Penguins— /Cam Robinson/ (@CrazyJoeDavola3) May 19, 2017
Sounds like a sniper to me.
Seeing an average of just under 16 minutes per night, Guentzel is also very efficient with his ice time, ending the regular season with 1.5 goals per 60 minutes and 3.1 points per 60. The latter figure is good for tops among all rookie skaters and represents the eighth-best total in the league for skaters who suited up for at least 20 contests.
5 on 5 SH%
Off. Zone Start %
Not Just a Passenger
Guentzel has been targeted by some in the fantasy world as a player whose production is intrinsically linked to his deployment, and specifically, whether he’s lining up next to the best player in the world, Sidney Crosby.
In a vacuum this is true. Will he likely see a downtick in production if he’s off the top line for long stretches? Probably.
But playing in Pittsburgh allows him the safety net of slipping down to the second line and receiving saucer passes from Evgeni Malkin.
Of Guentzel’s 30 even strength point this season, 18 came with Crosby on the ice (60 percent). While the other 12 were produced while on the ice with a myriad of players. Most notably, he was alongside one of Kessel, Malkin or Bonino.
Scoring 30 even-strength points in just 40 games is a terrific sign for future production. He’s continued that into the post season by recording 12 of his 14 playoff points at five-on-five. With the likelihood of increased time on the power play next season, there’s room for optimism.
Guentzel saw just 1:22 of five-on-four ice time from the second unit during the regular season and produced a measly three power-play points. In the post season, he’s seen a bit of time up on the first unit and looked strong as the net-front presence. While it hasn’t translated to noteworthy offensive results thus far – just two of his points have come with the extra man, he seems like the natural fit to slide into that role if Patric Hornqvist is moved down the lineup or even in an offseason deal.
We’ve seen in the very recent past what playing next to a generational talent in Pittsburgh can do for an average NHL player – Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis anyone? While those players’ wagons were firmly hitched to the Crosby horse, Guentzel appears to be a different breed. He’s an accomplished producer at all levels, demonstrates the key ingredients that every new-aged offensive player requires – speed, hands, vision and IQ and has immediately formed a strong bond next to Crosby.
Not only does the former Sioux City Musketeer look better next to Crosby, but some might say, Crosby also looks even better next to Guentzel.
While it’s always best to temper expectations, especially for a young player, Guentzel is going to find a way to produce high-end numbers from anywhere in that Penguins’ top six. Expecting anywhere from 0.80-0.90 points-per-game in 2017-18 seems realistic.
Take a gander at this beauty he penned over on the Player’s Tribune, too. Your appreciation for Guentzel will grow and your love for all things Phil Kessel will also surely rise as a by-product.
Thanks for reading and as always, feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3 where I often give unsolicited fantasy advice that I’m sure at least someone is listening too.
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