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Guentzel looks to be offensive catalyst for new-look Penguins

Forward relied on to help carry scoring load after Kessel trade

by Jessi Pierce / Correspondent

EDINA, Minn. -- Jake Guentzel sees the departure of forward Phil Kessel as an opportunity for himself, as well as the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The 24-year-old forward said he's ready to shoulder more responsibility this season after the Penguins traded Kessel to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph on June 29.

Kessel, who turns 32 on Oct. 2, had 303 points (110 goals, 193 assists) and won the Stanley Cup twice in four seasons with Pittsburgh. It will be up to Guentzel to make up a good part of that offensive production.

"We all know what type of player [Kessel] was for us; he was a big-time player, but we know we got a good player in return (Galchenyuk)," Guentzel said Wednesday during a break at Da Beauty League, a 3-on-3 summer league for players with ties to Minnesota. "It'll be interesting to see what's going to happen. I see a big opportunity for myself to play a bigger role, maybe on the top power play where, if I'm put on it, I think I can go out there and really do what I can to help. If that's an opportunity for myself, I'll be ecstatic.

"But we know we all need to step up. We all have to be better. When you lose a player like that, it hurts, but we feel we'll be OK and we've got a good team coming back."

Guentzel is looking to follow up the best season of his three in the NHL. He had an NHL career-high 76 points, and his 40 goals led Pittsburgh, no small task on a roster with the likes of centers Sidney Crosby (35 goals last season) and Evgeni Malkin (21), as well as Kessel (27).

Some of the offensive load will also fall to Galchenyuk. The 25-year-old center had 41 points (19 goals, 22 assists) in 72 games with the Coyotes last season and had 255 points (108 goals, 147 assists) in his first six NHL seasons with the Montreal Canadiens.

Pittsburgh added more offensive depth by signing free agent forward Brandon Tanev to a six-year contract July 1. He had an NHL career-high 29 points (14 goals, 15 assists) in 80 games with the Winnipeg Jets last season.

Center Nick Bjugstad, acquired by the Penguins with center Jared McCann in a trade from the Florida Panthers for centers Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan and three draft picks Feb. 1, is familiar with Galchenyuk from their time together at USA Hockey development camps.

Video: NYI@PIT, Gm4: Guentzel scores 35 seconds in

"Obviously, Phil was fun to play with, fun to be around," Bjugstad said at Da Beauty League. "My short time with him was awesome, and I wish him the best in Arizona. It was a new team for me, so I'm still getting to know those guys, and now we kind of have a turnover of guys too, so it'll be a fun new season.

"Galchenyuk has high-level skill and high energy. … I would run into him every once in a while in Florida. He'll be a good addition along with Tanev and some of those other guys we traded for and signed. It's super exciting."

Pittsburgh started its busy offseason by acquiring center Dominik Kahun and a draft pick in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on June 15 for defenseman Olli Maatta. Maatta had been a mainstay in his six seasons with the Penguins and had 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) in 60 games last season. Kahun had 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) for the Blackhawks in his rookie season.

"It's tough seeing a guy like Olli go, I mean he's such a great guy, he's a hard worker and he's just a nice guy to have around the rink. It's sad to see him leave," defenseman Brian Dumoulin said during the Foxboro Pro League, a summer league in Foxborough, Massachusetts. "But we've had a logjam on D, a lot of guys, I think we had eight almost all last year. We'll have some guys step up. Hopefully [Juuso Riikola] can have a good summer, Chad Ruhwedel's right there too, so we have some guys that are ready to step up."

Guentzel said the Penguins are prepared to do the same and seize the opportunity to make a deep playoff run this season with new faces in the lineup after they were swept by the New York Islanders in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round last season.

"We weren't too happy about what happened last year in the playoffs, so changes sometimes come and you have to adjust," Guentzel said. "We all know we have to be better. Just for our team, teams around us got better so it's going to be a battle to get in the playoffs.

"We have a sour taste from last year, so we're ready to get going." correspondent Matt Kalman contributed to this report

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