Penguins Prediction Rewind: Jake Guentzel, not Phil Kessel, was team’s most dangerous scorer | TribLIVE.com
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Jonathan Bombulie

Last summer, beat writer Jonathan Bombulie made a series of predictions leading up to the start of the 2018-19 season. Some were OK. Some were hilariously off the mark. In this series, Bombulie will explain what he was thinking and where his logic went off course.

THE QUESTION

Which Penguins winger will score the most goals this season?

A. Phil Kessel

B. Patric Hornqvist

C. Jake Guentzel

D. None of the above

THE PREDICTION

A. Phil Kessel

THE RIGHT ANSWER

C. Jake Guentzel

THE RATIONALE

• At this time last year, Kessel was one of only 16 active NHL players to have scored at least 330 career goals. He probably wouldn’t shoot 13.0% or score 12 times on the power play like he did while netting 34 goals in 2017-18, but he wouldn’t drop off enough to fall out of the top spot among the team’s wingers.

• Guentzel was obviously well on his way to establishing himself as a top scorer, but it was hard to pinpoint where his ceiling and floor were when it comes to production. He scored 16 goals in half a season as a rookie, then followed that up with 22 goals in his first full season. It was hard to say which pace would be Guentzel’s norm. Picking a spot in between was prudent.

• Hornqvist’s 29 goals from 2017-18 looked like an anomaly, largely because 15 of them came on the power play.

READER REACTION

A sample of Facebook comments:

• “I’ll pick Phil by a good margin if he plays with Malkin or Crosby. If he receives typical third-line ice time with Brassard and has as much success playing with him as he did last season, he might not score 20 goals.”

• “It’s really hard to bet against Phil Kessel here. Guentzel might hit 30 this year, but I don’t think he will be able to beat out Phil.”

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED

• Kessel didn’t have a bad year when it came to goal scoring, but he took a step back, going from 34 goals to 27. His even-strength total dropped from 22 to 15. His shots on goal total dropped from 449 to 370, the lowest for a full season in his career.

• Guentzel had a breakthrough season, finishing the year as one of 13 NHL players to crack the 40-goal mark. His shot total skyrocketed from 296 to 375. His shooting percentage came in at a robust 17.6%.

• Hornqvist’s power-play goal total nosedived from 15 to 6. He tied Bryan Rust for third in goals among the team’s wingers with 18.

THE FLAWS IN THE LOGIC

• Guentzel’s growth as a goal scorer wasn’t incremental; it was dramatic. His stellar 2018 playoff performance wasn’t just a hot stretch; it was a sign of things to come. His career shooting percentage of 16.3% doesn’t really look like a fluke anymore.

• Kessel’s drop in production wasn’t related to falling power-play production or a change in puck luck. He scored fewer goals mostly because he took fewer shots.

LESSONS LEARNED

• Guentzel is the real deal. Scoring 40 goals without the benefit of much power-play time is a trick few players in the league could pull off. Make future predictions accordingly.

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all offseason long.

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