Jake Guentzel’s scoring touch is back

8 Comments

PITTSBURGH — When the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup a year ago they received major contributions from rookies Matt Murray and Conor Sheary.

It is happening again this season with another impact rookie. That rookie: Jake Guentzel.

After scoring the game-winning goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night, helping the Penguins escape with a win in one of the crazier playoff games in recent memory, he played the role of hero again on Wednesday in the Penguins’ 4-1 Game 2 win by scoring two more goals, including another game-winner.

He now leads the NHL with 12 goals this postseason (three more than any other player) and an almost unbelievable five game-winning goals.

His first goal on Monday was the result of some good fortune as he able to jam a loose puck through the slimmest of openings along the goal line, a play that Guentzel described as just trying to put the puck on net and seeing what happens.

Later, he opened the floodgates to start the third period just 10 seconds in when he pounced on a fat rebound in the slot and drilled it into an empty net, kicking off a wild four-minute stretch where the Penguins scored three goals to put the game away and send them to Nashville with a 2-0 series lead.

For Guentzel, this latest goal-scoring outburst couldn’t have come at a better time for both him and the Penguins.

After starting the playoffs with 10 goals in his first 11 games, he went through an eight-game goal-scoring drought that nearly made him a healthy scratch heading into Game 1 of this series when Patric Hornqvist was ready to return to the lineup.

Instead, coach Mike Sullivan opted to stick with him while also praising his overall play even without the goals.

On Wednesday, Sullivan talked about the discussions he had with Guentzel were like during that drought, and how he wanted Guentzel to focus on things other than just scoring goals.

“He is a conscientious kid,” said Sullivan. “He is a pleasure to coach, and we just talked about just playing the game the right way. Focussing on details shift after shift. Not being concerned on scoring goals and making plays. If he plays the game the right way, winning puck battles, the wall plays, gaining lines, taking what the game gives you, then when the play is there his instincts will take over because he is a real talented kid.”

Sullivan also talked about wanting to limit Guentzel’s minutes given that this this season his first taste of pro hockey coming out of college and not being used to the demands of an NHL schedule.

“We just shifted the focus a little bit, trying to cut his minutes,” said Sullivan. “He was playing a lot of minutes. This is his first year pro, coming out of college where he is not used to playing the NHL schedule and the demands of that, particularly a long playoff run. So we just thought if we cut his minutes we would get more productive minutes.

“He seems to be getting a second wind, he is getting his legs back, I think his confidence is there. You can see how good of a player he is, we can move him up and down the lineup. He had a good game tonight so we moved him up with Sid.”

All of that seems to have worked and Guentzel is not only a huge reason the Penguins are up 2-0 in the series, but he is also starting to insert himself into the Conn Smythe discussion.

Because Guentzel was a third-round draft pick four years ago, and is a smaller, undersized player and didn’t start the year in the NHL he is going to get looked at as “coming out of nowhere” this postseason. But including his time in the American Hockey League to start the year, his time with the big club in the regular season and the playoffs to this point he has now scored 49 goals in 94 games this season.

He has already proven to be an impact player. One more for a team that is already loaded with them.

These 2017 NHL Draft picks lacked hype … but not swagger

Getty
2 Comments

The interview process for draft prospects must be a real beating. Then again, it’s also an opportunity for hopefuls to push back.

In the case of two smaller prospects, it meant providing some swagger in their answers, possibly impressing their new teams. If nothing else, Kailer Yamamoto and Michael DiPietro generated some refreshingly confident quotes.

One would assume that the Edmonton Oilers picked Yamamoto with the 22nd choice for more than just a great answer alone … but still.

Nice, right?

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek related a similar story about DiPietro, who the Vancouver Canucks nabbed with the 64th pick.

Funny story: When one team at the NHL told him “We don’t think you can play in the NHL with our team, you’re too small” at the combine, he fired back with “well, I guess you have a problem with winning, then.” How do you not like that?

If nothing else, those two aren’t shy.

As a bonus story, check out the bumpy path Will Reilly – aka the “Mr. Irrelevant” of the 2017 NHL Draft – took to being chosen last overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins, via Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy. From the sound of things, there are worse feelings than going 217th.

The 2017 NHL Draft may have been “pumped down” from a hype perspective, yet it sounds like many of these prospects at least bring some moxie to the table.

Kings, Golden Knights labeled 2017 NHL Draft winners; Bruins, not so much

Getty
7 Comments

It’s nearly certain that we won’t be able to determine the “winners and losers” of the 2017 NHL Draft until, say, 2022. If not later.

Still, what fun is that?

Quite a few outlets pegged some winners and losers, though sometimes the choices were more about themes like nations or player types than specific teams.

For example: Puck Daddy gives a thumbs down to the “green room” experiment.

Let’s take a look at some of the consensus picks.

Winners

Vegas Golden Knights

GM George McPhee was dealt a bad hand when it comes to the lottery draft, so he instead made his own luck. And then he selected three players who could improve this team going forward.

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek especially liked the last two of their three first-rounders (Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom), viewing Cody Glass as more of a no-brainer. Plenty of others were on board.

Los Angeles Kings

Gabe Vilardi fell to Los Angeles, whether it was because of shaky skating or some other reason. That potential steal (and some other shrewd moves) impressed the Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy, who assembled draft profiles for PHT.

Again, Vilardi’s loss was considered the Kings’ gain, as slower skaters were considered losers by the likes of Post Media’s Michael Traikos.

Philadelphia Flyers

Boy, Ron Hextall is good at this thing, isn’t he? Philly drew high marks even beyond the layup of landing Nolan Patrick. The main area of disagreement revolved around the Brayden Schenn trade, though plenty came out on Hextall’s side there, too.

Arizona Coyotes

Boy, that negative press didn’t last long, did it? Between landing Niklas Hjalmarsson, Derek Stepan, and Antti Raanta in trades and savvy picks, they were a popular choice.

Themes

Smaller players, Sweden, and Finland drew semi-serious mentions as “winners.”

Losers

Boston Bruins

The perception is that they played it too safe.

Colorado Avalanche, for now?

OK, this was more about draft weekend than picks, but people are criticizing Joe Sakic for standing pat. That could change, but the negative sentiment is there.

Detroit Red Wings

Another common choice. Some believe that their draft was the worst of them all, which isn’t great considering the declining opinion of GM Ken Holland overall.

New York Rangers

Lias Andersson was viewed as a reach by plenty, and his connection to the trade to Arizona might intensify the scrutiny.

Themes

Not a great draft for Russian-born players and/or guys who don’t skate quite swiftly.

***

So, those are some of the near-consensus choices for winners and losers, via the brave souls who made rapid reactions to the 2017 NHL Draft.

Ducks ink D Holzer to two-year deal reportedly worth $1.8M

Getty
2 Comments

As the dust settled on the expansion draft, the Anaheim Ducks’ defense is coming into focus.

Sunday continued that pattern; the Ducks signed Korbinian Holzer to a two-year contract worth $1.8 million, according to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie.

You can break down the Ducks defense as more expensive players (Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and Kevin Bieksa) and cheaper ones (Holzer, Brandon Montour, and Josh Manson).

Only Vatanen, Lindholm and Holzer see contracts that go beyond 2017-18 – at least without an extension yet for the likes of Fowler and Manson – so Holzer provides a little bit of certainty.

Is the $900K a minor overpay, though? Holzer played in 32 games for the Ducks this season after appearing in 29 in 2015-16. His impact has been pretty minimal, generating seven points while averaging 13:31 in ice time per contest (down from 14:45 the previous season).

Granted he may get more opportunities to show what he’s capable of if the Ducks lose another piece. Then again, at 29, the Ducks likely know what they have.

2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class to be named Monday; Selanne + who?

Getty
14 Comments

The 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class is expected to be announced on Monday, and every indication is that Teemu Selanne will be on the list. Beyond that, well, there are a lot of question marks.

NHL.com notes that there’s at least a possibility that Selanne will be the only NHL name to be part of this class, which would mark a first since 2010 (when Dino Ciccarelli was the lone addition).

It’s a nice way to continue what’s been a buffet for hockey fans: the 2017 Stanley Cup Final’s conclusion, the expansion draft and then the 2017 NHL Draft. The HHOF announcements are a nice appetizer before free agency gets, well, frenzied?

“The Finnish Flash” was also an obvious top choice in last year’s poll to see who should be in the class.

Now, that doesn’t mean he is the only interesting name.

For one thing, Daniel Alfredsson will be eligible for the first time, much like Selanne. “Alf” falls in the “Maybe” category with some interesting, debatable other options: Mark Recchi, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick, Paul Kariya, Chris Osgood, and more.

The 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame class included Eric Lindros, Rogie Vachon, Sergei Makarov, and Pat Quinn.