No matter what happens during the rest of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the astonishing achievements by Penguins forward Jake Guentzel should not be overlooked. Back in January, Pensblog writer/podcaster Leah B. wrote that Guentzel was “obliterating the American Hockey League” before his imminent call-up to Pittsburgh. Four months later, Guentzel is obliterating the National Hockey League playoffs record book too.
As noted all over the internet, Guentzel has set several playoff marks:
- Most game-winning goals, rookie (5)
- Most goals, American-born rookie (13)
- Most points, American-born rookie (20)
- Most points, Penguins rookie (20)
Consider that Jaromir Jagr, the Penguins’ previous record-holder for rookie playoff points scored his 13 in 24 games. Guentzel achieved his record-breaking 14th point in half the number of games and in a lower-scoring era.
Guentzel, 22, has accomplished all these things in his first full year as a professional. Never mind being an NHL rookie. Guentzel was also an AHL rookie this past season. One year ago, the Nebraska native had completed his junior year with the Omaha Mavericks, contributing 119 points in 108 career collegiate games. He turned pro with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, playing 11 regular season games for the Baby Pens before leading the team in playoff scoring with 14 points in 10 postseason games.
This season, in only 33 AHL games, he scored 42 points – 21 goals and 21 assists – to earn a selection to the AHL All-Rookie Team, (along with W-B/S teammate Casey DeSmith). We all remember his NHL debut in Pittsburgh in mid-November. He scored on his first career shot, then scored again on his third career shot. After briefly returning to the AHL before Christmas, Guentzel was recalled to Pittsburgh for good in January.
The rest is truly history.
NHL Public Relations reported last evening that Guentzel is the second rookie to score in the first three games of a Stanley Cup Final, but a little sleuthing on Hockey Reference reveals that Guentzel is the first rookie in NHL history to score at least 4 goals in the first three games of a Stanley Cup Final.
Four other rookies not named Jake Guentzel scored at least 4 goals in the Final but all notched their fourth in Game 4 or later.
When your name is on a list with Maurice “Rocket” Richard, who many consider (correctly) the best player of the NHL’s first half-century, that counts for something.
Those who did it in Games 1 to 3…
More history lies ahead for Guentzel if he holds onto his lead atop the playoff goals chart. No rookie has ever led all scorers in playoff goals in a single season. However, even before the conclusion of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, Guentzel measures up reasonably well with past outstanding playoff performances by players in his age group. After all, to explode for 13 playoff goals in his age 22 season is simply an excellent feat.
This table shows all the players in NHL history who recorded at least 13 goals in a single playoffs in their age 22 (or younger) season. Unsurprisingly, it is a short list. Unsurprisingly, it features two other familiar current Penguins. (Note: Rocket Richard just missed this list as he scored 12 goals in 9 games as a 22-year old rookie in the two-round playoff format in use in 1944. Think about how many he might have scored under the modern four-round format.)
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Adjusting for the goal-scoring environment across different seasons and eras, Guentzel ranks fourth-best out of the ten players 22 years old or younger who scored at least 13 goals in one playoff year.
Crosby’s 2009 performance, at age 21, tops the list and Malkin isn’t far behind. The 1980s players who enjoyed a scoring context when goals were 30% to 40% more common, fall in behind Guentzel.
For the self-described Jake ‘n’ Bake, he has already made his mark in NHL playoff history during his rookie professional season. And still, the best is yet to come, hopefully during the last days of the 2017 season and for many more years in Pittsburgh.