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Rookies leading Pens into playoffs

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Last season, Jake Guentzel turned pro just in time to join Wilkes/Barre-Scranton of the American Hockey League for their Calder Cup playoff run. And he immediately dominated, posting 14 points (5G-9A) in just 10 games.

He continued that into the 2016-17 regular season with WBS, recording 21 goals and 42 points in 33 games before getting called up to Pittsburgh for good. Where he - yep, you guessed it - continued to star, scoring 16 goals and 33 points in 40 games.

Now, Guentzel is hoping to carry that success into his first NHL postseason with Pittsburgh.

"I just think the people in the organization here, there, it doesn't matter, everyone's trying to help you out and it's a big reason why the organization has so much success," Guentzel said.

While of course, the veterans in the room like Matt Cullen and Sidney Crosby are some of those people helping him along, Guentzel pointed to other young players like Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust as the people he looks up to most.

It was eye-opening for players like Guentzel to watch as those kids they spent time with at development camp and the rookie tournament became key contributors for the Pens during their Stanley Cup run.

"The younger guys here, they went through it all last year," Guentzel said. "They've been so much help so far just trying to take it all in."

Sheary has been playing on the red-hot "Sid and the Kids" line with Crosby and Guentzel, with the three of them driving play for the Pens down the stretch.

"Even from his first call-up, just the two goals in his first game was pretty impressive," Sheary said. "Then when he came up for good, I think he just immediately made an impact on any line he was on and a lot of guys wanted to play with him, so I think if he continues to do that it's going to be awesome."

Sheary has said all along he's more than willing to help Guentzel out with whatever he needs, but so far, that hasn't really been necessary.

"He's obviously a very quiet kid, but he's also very confident in his game and it shows on the ice," Sheary said. "I think that's where it comes out of him, is the way he plays. I kind of try to stay out of his way as much as I can, especially when he's on such a hot streak like he is. If he just keeps playing the game the right way, he's going to continue to have success."

Guentzel is playing at as high of a level anyone could ask for heading into the postseason. He finished the year on a five-game goal/point streak, recording five goals and eight points over that span.

"You want to be playing well going into the playoffs, so that's a big part of it," he said. "I feel good. I've scored some pretty lucky goals, but I'll take it. Feel good and excited to get started."

Guentzel has been scoring goals, while Matt Murray has been stopping them. It can be easy to forget that Murray is still considered a rookie despite backstopping the Pens to a championship last season.

In 2016, Murray had played just 13 NHL regular-season games before taking over the net in the postseason. Now, he has the experience of going through a full year.

Murray had a season that puts him in the conversation for the Calder Trophy as he finished with 32 wins, becoming the 13th first-year netminder in the expansion era to win 30 games, setting a new franchise record for wins by a rookie goaltender and being named the team's Rookie of the Year.

But despite having played a lot more games entering the playoffs this year, Murray said it doesn't change much for him heading in.

"I don't think it's that much different, to be honest," Murray said. "I had enough time to prepare for it last year with (13) games. Things are heightened a little bit intensity-wise in the playoffs, but at the end of the day it's still hockey. You do what you think you need to do to be successful."

And his teammates have faith that he'll get the job done.

"This is his second playoff run, so he'll be a little bit more prepared and know what to expect," Sheary said. "We have a lot of confidence in him and hopefully he can bring it again this year."

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