He may be putting up veteran-like numbers, but Jake Guentzel is still just a kid in awe of his NHL surroundings.
“I definitely didn’t expect to find myself on Sidney Crosby’s wing during the playoffs. But that’s how it has worked out, and what can I even say?” Guentzel wrote. “I’d watched Sid on TV since I was 10 years old. To be able to see how his mind works on the ice is just unbelievable.”
Guentzel’s path to the NHL has been well-documented in the months since he introduced himself to the hockey world with a remarkable two-goal debut in late November.
He grew up around hockey as a coach’s son, and was a stick boy for the NCAA’s Minnesota Golden Gophers as a kid, where he met then-college star (and now teammate) Phil Kessel.
“When I was 11 years old, this highly recruited kid named Phil Kessel came to the team. It was a huge deal at the time because Phil was a Wisconsin kid, but he had picked the Golden Gophers over the Badgers,” wrote Guentzel. “I remember when he came in, I was kind of in awe of him because he was so good, but he was also just a hilarious guy. He had this infectious energy every time he came to the rink, like he just loved playing hockey — and that’s exactly how I felt, too.”
Just over a decade later, Guentzel is not only playing alongside Kessel, but he’s an important member of Pittsburgh’s powerful offence. His 16 goals and 17 assists in 40 regular season games proved to be just the appetizer before excelling in the playoffs.
Now, with a league-leading nine playoff goals to go with five assists through 12 post-season games so far, he’s showing no signs of stopping as the Penguins prepare to take on the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Final, beginning Saturday night.
Guentzel’s article gives some pretty cool insight into the mind of a rookie and what it’s like to step into a dressing room with the guys he grew up watching. Here are a few excerpts:
On being reunited with Kessel, 11 years later:
“Phil walks [into the Penguins dressing room] and sees me. He’s got a little smirk, and he doesn’t even miss a beat. He’s just like, ‘Hey kid … we’re back together again, huh?’
That immediately put me at ease, but then I looked up at the board, and I realized what he really meant.
GUENTZEL — MALKIN — KESSEL
I was on a line with Geno and Phil that night. I mean, wow.”
On the best advice Sidney Crosby gave him:
“Honestly, when I first got on a line with [Crosby] and Conor Sheary, my instinct was to try to get Sid the puck every time […] A lot of superstars might have loved that, but Sid was so good at communicating with me, telling me that I was out there for a reason, and to play my own game. That really helped me early on.”
On Marc-Andre Fleury — “one of the best guys I have ever met in hockey”—and how he helped out the new kid:
“From the first day I got to Pittsburgh, Flower made sure to talk to me every day and make me feel at home. Every day, he’s smiling and happy to be playing hockey, and making everybody feel good.
“Even in Game 7 of such a tight series, with so much pressure on his shoulders, Flower is smiling and joking on the ice. Every time one of our guys blocks a shot, you can hear him yelling, ‘Woooooooo!’”