Geek of the Week: Jake Guentzel Is High Risk and High Reward

by Scott Maran on June 17, 2018


There were many stellar performances during the postseason, but none may top that of Jake Guentzel. Despite the Pittsburgh Penguins being bounced in the second round of the playoffs, Guentzel put on quite a performance. People have noticed, and this will surely affect his draft ranking by the start of the fantasy season. But with Guentzel’s incredibly high ceiling also comes high risk, as he may be one of the biggest boom or busts draft picks at the start of the fantasy hockey season.

Despite only being drafted 77th overall, Guentzel quickly rose through the ranks and became a prized prospect in the Penguins’ farm system. After scoring 42 points in 33 AHL games as a 22 year old, Guentzel graduated full-time to the NHL, where he continued to shine. In his first NHL season, Guentzel managed to score 33 points in only 40 games, with only three of those points being scored on the power play. Out of all rookie skaters Guentzel finished with the third highest point-per-game rate, ahead of players such as Mitch Marner and William Nylander and behind only Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. He was also only one of two rookies in the top 10 in points per game to have less than five power-play points, posting almost all of his production at even strength.

Things didn’t go as well for Guentzel this season (0.59 pts/g compared to 0.82 pts/g) but this year’s playoff run cemented his reputation as a dynamite scorer. Through only 12 games Guentzel tallied 11 goals and 21 points, tied for the fifth-most points in the entire playoffs. He also finished tied for the second-highest points-per-game rate in the postseason, behind only Sean Couturier (who only skated in five games).

Everyone knew Guentzel had plenty of offensive skill, but his playoff performance revealed glimpses of his superstar potential. Since 2005, Guentzel’s point-per-game rate of 1.75 is the third highest ever posted in a single postseason. And out of all players who had to play in at least 10 games, Guentzel’s is tied for the highest. It’s not every day a player posts the kind of numbers Guentzel did during the playoffs. Though it’s obviously a very small sample, combined with his rookie season, it’s obvious that Guentzel can score.

And the best part is that Guentzel is still getting better. At only 23 years old, Guentzel still has some of his best years ahead of him. He’s only had experience playing in the NHL for two seasons, making it very likely that next year is the year we see a full-fledged breakout. It’s rare for a rookie to instantly become a superstar in their first year or two in the NHL, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Guentzel finally put it all together in his third full season. Aleksander Barkov only scored 60 points in his first 125 games before scoring 59 points in 66 games in his third NHL season. David Pastrnak, a low first-round pick, scored 70 points in 75 games after two seasons where he only played a combined 97 games and scored only 53 points. Many players break out in their third year in the league, and it looks like Guentzel is on the verge of his own rise to stardom.

However, despite all the many potential reasons for a possible breakout, there are almost just as many risks in banking on a Guentzel outburst next season. For one thing, it’s hard to judge when prospects or young players will be able to put it all together. For years everyone was predicting a Cam Atkinson breakout and it took him until he was 27 years old to break 60 points. Mikael Granlund spent almost five years on the Minnesota Wild hovering between 40 and 50 points before racking up 69 points in the 2016-17 season.

We also can’t overlook the disappointing regular season Guentzel had. Fantasy poolies were expecting a lot from the young forward, yet he only finished with the 92nd most fantasy value out of all skaters (according to our Fantasy Hockey Geek tool using a standard 12-team Yahoo league measuring goals, assists, shots, power-play points, and hits).
 

 

Rank

FHG Value

GP

G

A

SOG

PPP

HITS

Milan Lucic

91

14

81

10

24

144

7

250

Jake Guentzel

92

14

81

22

26

171

12

142

Dion Phaneuf

93

14

77

7

19

132

11

158


After scoring 33 points in only 40 games in his rookie season, Guentzel ended this year with 48 points in a full 82 games. His hit totals are excellent, but in order to reach fantasy stardom, he’ll have to post a lot more points.

So how can he record more points? Guentzel should naturally start producing more as he gets better and will most likely see a significant increase when accounting for that fact that he’s produced at amazing levels during the postseason. However, it might be difficult for Guentzel to provide elite fantasy value while he remains on the Pittsburgh Penguins, as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel all lie ahead of him on the depth chart. There can only be so much offense to spread around and Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel are almost a shoe-in for 80+ points.

Not to mention, those three and whichever defender plays on the first unit will accumulate a majority of the power-play points, leaving Guentzel to pick up the scraps on the second unit. We can see this trend simply in the ice time of the Penguins’ players. Even though Guentzel only averaged around 16 and a half minutes of icetime per game (which is far from bad), that was the fifth-highest out of all forwards on the Penguins. It’s possible that he can start getting more ice time if time is taken away from players in the bottom six, but there might not be much more he can gain. His 14 and a half minutes of even-strength ice time is the fourth highest out of all forwards and is almost tied with Phil Kessel’s (just 23 average seconds less).

The same thing goes with Guentzel’s power play time, as he averaged the fifth most amongst all Penguin forwards last year. The issue is though that only the top four players see over three minutes of power-play time a game, so Guentzel’s stuck averaging less than two minutes of power-play time a game. He’s not knocking Malkin, Crosby, or Kessel off the first unit and it would be almost equally difficult to bump Hornqvist from his spot in the formation, leaving Guentzel to be stuck on the second unit. If Mike Sullivan doesn’t make any big changes, it’ll only make it more difficult for Guentzel to have a breakout offensive year.

Combine all that with the fact that people may be overvaluing Guentzel now and fantasy poolies run the risk of overpaying for Guentzel’s production. Guentzel’s skills are no secret, and every other fantasy poolie has him on their radar. After his insane playoff performance, people may be looking to draft him too high, making it near impossible for him to outperform his draft position. It’s important to select players who are likely to provide appropriate value for their draft position yet also have the potential to outperform it. If too many people are banking on a Guentzel breakout and raising his draft position to the point where a breakout is dependent on him providing equal value relative to his position, him not breaking out could cause him to severely underperform and be detrimental to one’s fantasy team.

Jake Guentzel is more than likely going to become an excellent scorer in the near future, as his talent and past performance indicate a very bright future. However, for next season there are a few concerning factors at play that may prevent Guentzel from breaking out in the way some may be hoping for. So for fantasy poolies thinking of using a high draft pick on Guentzel, be cautious, as he looks to be a very high-risk, high-reward player for next season.

 

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