Staal to stay in Pittsburgh
Eric Duhatschek has a column on-line at GlobeSports.com that hits all of the right notes on the Penguins' decision to keep Jordan Staal in the NHL, and there's not really a ton of new information to add. What I would say is that if Pittsburgh's record was, say, 3-6-0 and not 6-3-0, I think we would now be talking about the youngster heading back to Peterborough and the OHL.
What I find the most interesting about Staal so far is the role he's carved out in the NHL as one of the Penguins' top penalty-killing forwards. It's not common to see any rookie, other than a budding star defenceman, play when shorthanded, and it's even less common to see one make an impact in that role with what is, for the moment, a winning team.
The Penguins' penalty kill was one of the worst in the NHL last season (29th), stopping just 78.8 per cent of other team's opportunities, and given the personnel new GM Ray Shero shipped in during the offseason, I'd thought it would once again be an area where Pittsburgh would struggle.
As of now, however, they're bobbing along at 12th in the NHL (85.2%) when down a man, and are on pace to allow 31 fewer power-play goals this season.
That's a big difference.
Now, that's not to say Staal alone has forced the team's swing, but he is the team's second-leading forward for shorthanded ice time per game (4:19). He's only averaging 13:14 ice time total per game, and when you factor in the 1:20 on the power play, Staal is about as close to a special-teams specialist as there is in the league (about 43 per cent of his ice time comes on either the PP or PK).
In terms of rookies, no one is even close to putting in as much penalty killing time as Staal. He's currently the rookie leader in shorthanded ice time per game — and that includes defencemen, where only San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic comes close at 4:14 per game. The next closest freshman forward is Colorado's Paul Stastny, who plays nearly two fewer minutes shorthanded per game than Staal.
In all, there are only five rookie forwards, including Staal, playing any significant role on any PK squad in the league.
The bottom line to all this?
Staal's contributions, even if we overlook the three shorthanded goals and five points he's managed so far, aren't negligible, and the minutes he's playing aren't easy ones. In fact, given his lack of even-strength ice time, the fact he has so many points is impressive on its own, and given his size and strength, keeping up at just 18 (and a young 18 at that) won't be a problem.
This is a gifted kid, and there's no shortage of those for the Penguins. I can't wait to see this team in the playoffs — preferably this April.