NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season begins with Wednesday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 5:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Jake Guentzel was the offensive leader for the Penguins as we headed into 2020. With 20 goals and 43 points, the winger was on pace to threaten career highs. His regular season, however, came to an end on New Year’s Eve after crashing into the boards following his 20th goal.
Prior to the injury, Guentzel had played 219 straight regular season and playoff games for the Penguins.
Shoulder surgery was needed, and a four-to-six month timetable was given, meaning Guentzel wouldn’t return until early in the playoffs, at the soonest. But the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to halt the regular season, and the Return to Play plan allowed the 26-year-old extra time to heal up. When he did return for the Penguins’ Qualifying Round series against the Canadiens, he recorded a goal and three points in four games.
Guentzel says he used the offseason to get back to his old form. It’s been five months since the Penguins’ last game and he’s ready to get going alongside Sidney Crosby.
“I feel a lot more confident with the extra recovery time over this time,” Guentzel said last week. “I think for me, I feel stronger, I feel more confident and don’t really think about anymore. What happened to me is under my belt. So just a confidence thing with it and how long it’s been since it, so I’m ready to go.”
A 100% healthy Guentzel provides a huge boost for a Penguins team looking to keep their Stanley Cup window open. Over his last three seasons he’s scored 82 times and was a playoff producer with 42 points in 27 postseason games in 2017 and 2018. In his last full regular season — 2018-19 — he put up a career high 40 goals and 76 points. That’s the type of contribution the team is expecting.
“I know he’s not satisfied with where he’s at,” said head coach Mike Sullivan, who added “the sky is the limit” for Guentzel. “He wants to improve in every aspect of his game, and he’s willing to put the work in to do it. And I think that’s one of the things that separates Jake from others as far as the character of his makeup. And that excites us, because we think his game will continue to improve.”
A shorter regular season will mean an emphasis on consistency with production. Now fully healthy, Guentzel wants to keep the goals and points coming.
“Just to do it year in and year out is a big thing,” he said. “It’s tough to do in this league. And I think that’s what you want to do to be a really good player, is to have that consistency for all 56 games this year and do it year in and out. So, I think that’s the biggest thing for me.”