Heading into this season, Jake Guentzel described his time in the NHL thus far as simply "a blur."
He never expected his career to start like it did, ending his rookie year by leading the NHL in postseason scoring with 13 goals while playing a starring role in the Penguins' 2017 Stanley Cup championship run.
He never expected to follow it up with an even more prolific performance in the 2018 playoffs, recording 10 goals and 21 points in just 12 games - joining Mario Lemieux as the only players in NHL history to reach double digits in goals in each of their first two playoff runs.
But now that the Penguins have re-signed Guentzel to a five-year contract extension that will begin with the 2019-20 season and runs through the 2023-24 campaign and carries an average annual value of $6 million, the young star feels like he's truly established himself as an impact player for the Penguins and a core member of the team.
"How it all happened the first couple years, you're just trying to earn a spot and stay here," Guentzel said. "I think when you get a deal like this, you feel a little bit more comfortable and confident out there. It's definitely a good feeling."
Guentzel, who was set to be a restricted free agent this offseason, said the deal came together pretty quickly and that the organization made it easy to get it done.
"It's exciting. It's where I want to be," he said. "It was my first time through it, but when it came about, I was pretty excited and glad to get it done and move forward. Whenever you can get it done and just focus on playing now, it's always nice."
Pittsburgh, which drafted Guentzel in the third round (77th overall) in 2013, has been a terrific fit for the 24-year-old forward for a number of reasons.
"It starts with the fans," Guentzel said. "I think they're second to none and they're there every night for us. It starts with them. The coaching staff is phenomenal and get us better every day. I think the management and coaching staff set the bar here really high. I'm happy to be here and it's going to be a good five years."
The feeling is more than mutual.
When Guentzel skated with the Stanley Cup hoisted over his head at Bridgestone Arena on June 11, 2017 after the Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators in six games, head coach Mike Sullivan was standing off to the side, watching and smiling, telling co-owner Ron Burkle and assistant coach Mark Recchi that "this kid's the real deal. He's only going to get better."
Guentzel has developed into one of the Penguins' top offensive performers since joining the team midway through the 2016-17 season and has thrived on a line alongside Sidney Crosby. After just two postseason appearances, Guentzel's 23 goals are tied for seventh-most in Penguins postseason history, and his 42 points are 13th. Among all NHL players during that span, Guentzel's goal total ranks first while his point total is only exceeded by Crosby (48).
This year, Guentzel is poised to once again establish new regular-season highs in all categories. Thus far he has 15 goals, 18 assists and 33 points in 36 games.
"He certainly is deserving," Sullivan said. "He's played extremely well for this organization in his time here. He's been part of one of the Stanley Cups that we've won. He's had great playoff runs each year. And he's been a consistent player for us. We're certainly thrilled for him but we're thrilled for the Penguins as well. We just think it's a great deal for both sides."