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Penguins Prediction Rewind: Jake Guentzel leaves Conor Sheary in his dust

August 20, 2018
Ducks goaltender John Gibson makes a save on the Penguins’ Jake Guentzel in the first period Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

Note: Last summer, beat writer Jonathan Bombulie made a series of predictions leading up to the start of the 2017-18 season. Some of them were hilariously off the mark. In this series, Bombulie will explain what he was thinking and where his logic went off course.

THE PREDICTION

Jake Guentzel will score more goals than Conor Sheary this season.

THE RATIONALE

-- Guentzel sure doesn’t appear to be a flash in the pan. His speed and vision are top of the line, and he looks to be less prone to slumps and injuries than Sheary. He’s also been so effective as a top-six winger that coach Mike Sullivan will probably resist the temptation to use him as a stopgap center.

-- Guentzel will probably end up spending more time on Crosby’s wing than Sheary. When the three play together, Sheary occupies the right wing. If Sullivan wants to get right wingers Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel into the top six, Sheary’s the one who is going to get bumped, especially if he hits a slump like he did in the playoffs.

READER REACTION

A sample of Facebook comments:

-- “Crosby and Guentzel have terrific chemistry together. I can’t see them being broken up unless they struggle together. Guentzel seems to have all of the tools.”

-- “It’s fun to speculate. Only time will tell which player scores more goals. My money is on the player on Sid’s line.”

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED

Guentzel scored more goals, but it was by a small margin, 22-18.

Sheary actually had a solid advantage in goals per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time (0.92-0.74), but Guentzel nosed ahead because of an edge in power-play goals (7-2).

Guentzel ended up playing a little more with Sidney Crosby (55 percent of his even-strength minutes) than Sheary did (48 percent).

Guentzel suffered from a normalization in shooting percentage. As a rookie, when he was scoring at a 32-goal pace for a full season, he shot an unsustainable 19.8 percent. Last year, it was a more reasonable but still high 12.9 percent.

THE FLAWS IN THE LOGIC

There weren’t flaws in the logic. Guentzel is the better scorer. The problem is that now, with 20-20 hindsight, it looks like a prediction that any dope could have correctly made. At the time, it wasn’t an easy call.

Last summer, Guentzel had a grand total of 40 games of NHL experience to his credit and given the team’s lack of center depth, there was talk he was going to be moved off Crosby’s line to a position he wasn’t as comfortable with.

If Guentzel played center, Sheary was going to spend a lot of time on Crosby’s wing, and with 30 goals in 105 career NHL games coming in, that looked like a position he could have exploited for a big season.

In the playoffs, of course, Guentzel clicked with Crosby and poured in 10 goals in 12 games. Sheary scored zero goals and was traded to Buffalo to open up salary cap space shortly thereafter. With that, the prediction looks obvious. It really wasn’t.

LESSONS LEARNED

When predicting which player will score more, choose talent over role. Eventually, if the talent’s there, role will take care of itself.

Keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

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