Jordan Staal has made six visits to Pittsburgh since moving on to Carolina in 2012, scoring one goal and one assist. His career with the Penguins is now far enough in the rear view mirror to take a reflective look at one of the most anticipated careers in Pittsburgh history. He played six years with the Pens and is currently in his fifth season with the Hurricanes.
Staal netted a short-handed goal against Boston in his last game Dec. 24. The shortie was his first of the season. As an 18-year-old a decade ago, the Thunder Bay native cut his NHL teeth with his ability to excel on special teams. His 6-foot-4 size and wing span gave him supernatural pterodactyl skills, according to Pens announcer, Bob Errey. Staal potted seven shorties as a rookie with the Penguins in 2006-07. His play brought up recollections of Mario Lemieux’s franchise record of 13 short-handed scores in 1988-89. Last week’s goal against the Bruins gives him eight short-handed scores in the last 10 NHL campaigns, or one more combined than his fairy tale rookie season.
Penguins fans often think about the “what if’s” in the NHL entry draft. Staal was selected second overall in 2006. Jonathan Toews was taken third by the Chicago Blackhawks and Nicklas Backstrom fourth by Washington. Phil Kessel, for that matter, was drafted fifth by the Bruins — but he’s worked out okay with Pittsburgh.
Sure, it would have been nice if Toews played his Hall of Fame career at Mellon Arena, Consol Energy Center, PPG Paints Arena, etc. but then social media addicts wouldn’t be able to compare Toews to Sidney Crosby and tell the hockey world why No. 87 is sooo much better. But that’s a story for another day.
Things probably haven’t worked out the way Staal envisioned when he picked Carolina over Pittsburgh. Actually, he was traded to the ‘Canes, but only after he forced the issue at the 2012 draft with GM Ray Shero. Staal wanted reunited with older brother Eric, now of the Minnesota Wild. He got it, but things never really clicked. Staal also wanted to prove he was much more than a third line center. That hasn’t worked out either, though injuries forced him to miss nearly half a season in 2014-15.
Staal’s only significant injury in Pittsburgh was when Montreal’s PK Subban slashed his foot with his skate blade, resulting in a staff infection back in 2010-11.
That magical season of 2006-07 is one of the most memorable debuts in Penguins history. Staal finished the season with 29 goals and a 22.1 shooting percentage — marks he’s never approached again. We’ll forgive him for finishing third in the Calder Trophy Award voting, Evgeni Malkin won rookie of the year honors.
He had other big moments for the Pens, like the time he completed a hat trick in the third period ALONE in Detroit on Nov. 11, 2008, then set up Ruslan Fedotenko for the OT game-winner. That was one of the greatest single-game efforts in Penguins lore.
His Game 4 goal (short-handed, no less) in the 2008-09 Stanley Cup Final helped Pittsburgh even the series against Detroit.
On a team with Crosby and Malkin, Staal was never going to be the go-to guy in Pittsburgh but he more than carved out a lasting legacy on a Stanley Cup winner. And after all, that’s what it’s all about.
Flags fly forever.