It's every hockey player's dream to be called up to the game's highest level. Tonight, Jake Guentzel will look to turn that dream into a reality as he is expected to make NHL debut against the New York Rangers at PPG Paints Arena.
Guentzel was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League this morning, as announced by Penguins executive vice president and general manager Jim Rutherford.
"It's special," Guentzel said of making his debut. "I worked hard for this and I just got to take it day by day and enjoy it."
The 22-year-old garnered attention last season when he joined WBS following his junior year at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and had six points (2G-4A) in 11 AHL regular-season games, before notching 14 points (5G-9A) in just 10 playoff contests.
Guentzel has carried that success over into this season, as his 17 points (7G-10A) in 16 games is tied for third overall in the league and first among rookies. Guentzel also has an AHL leading plus-14.
Guentzel, who was Pittsburgh's third-round (77th overall) selection in 2013, claims that his smooth transition from college to professional hockey is due to those around him.
"I think it's playing with good players," Guentzel said when asked about his success. "When you're surrounded by good players and good people, it brings out the best in you. I was fortunate to play with good players down in Wilkes-Barre and they only helped me get better."
During Monday's morning skate, the Omaha native skated on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, another great duo to help Guentzel translate his offensive prowess to the NHL.
"We're trying to put players in a position where they can play to their strengths," head coach Mike Sullivan said about placing Guentzel on that line. "Jake has very good offensive instincts. He's a point-a-game guy at the American League level. We played him with some of those guys during some of exhibition games, we thought he handled it extremely well.
"He's a mature kid, but it's about putting players in a position where they can play to their strengths. We think Jake's a very good player, he's got really good offensive instincts and we think he can be complimentary to that group."
While the forward may have some nerves for his first game, he's ready to live in the moment and show the coaching staff what he's capable of doing.
"It's everyone's dream to get to this level," Guentzel said. "It's going to be fun and I'm going to enjoy it."