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Jake Guentzel looks back on a near-perfect rookie season

Jake Guentzel, center, celebrates his Stanley Cup championship along with family members (left to right) brother Gabe, mother Sally, father Mike, and brother Ryan. Photo courtesy of Mike Guentzel

Jake Guentzel did not have NHL experience as recently as seventh months ago.

The Woodbury 22-year-old made his NHL debut on Nov. 21, 2016, scoring two goals in a 5-2 Pittsburgh loss to the New York Rangers.

Just seven months later, Guentzel was on the ice in Nashville, with his family by his side, hoisting the Stanley Cup above his head after the Penguins clinched a championship in a 2-0 game six victory over the Nashville Predators on June 11.

It was a fitting end to a near-perfect rookie season.

“You score on your first shift of your first game, you can’t get any better than that,” Guentzel said in a phone interview on June 19. “And then the playoff run we had. We had a special group, and I think the leadership that we have with this team, we’re lucky as young guys because they love to take us all in and they want to win more than anyone. Every year we have a chance with those guys.”

Guentzel wrapped up one of the best playoff runs by an NHL rookie, leading the postseason with 13 goals. He came within one goal of tying former North Star Dino Ciccarelli’s rookie NHL playoff scoring record (14), but he did tie Ciccarelli and former Flyer Ville Leino for the most all-time rookie postseason points with 21.

“He’s very motivated, and I give him credit because he accomplished everything he wanted to accomplish and even more,” said Mike Guentzel, Jake’s dad and the associate head coach of the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team.

Joining Guentzel on the ice after Pittsburgh clinched the cup was Mike, his mother, Sally, and brothers Ryan and Gabe. The next night, Guentzel and his family were invited to a party at Sidney Crosby’s house.

“Obviously, to lift the cup was special,” Guentzel said. “To have my family there makes it more, and you just realize how much it means.”

Each player on the NHL’s championship team will get their chance to host the Stanley Cup for one day, and Guentzel has not found out when his opportunity will be. But when the day comes he plans to share it with his Woodbury neighbors.

“We don’t have the date yet, and we don’t know what we’re doing with it yet, but yeah, we’ll get it to Woodbury,” Guentzel said.

Guentzel is taking a few weeks off to recover after a nearly two-month playoff run with the Penguins. By the start of July, he will begin an offseason training at the University of Minnesota.

With his rookie season in the books, Guentzel is already looking ahead to next season. As a young player in the NHL, his work is never done.

“Obviously, you’ve got to try and be an everyday player in the NHL,” Guentzel said. “That’s my main thing right now. You just want to make the team out of camp and go from there. Do whatever it takes to help you move on.”