PITTSBURGH -- He is only 23, hardly an age at which most NHL players are considered to be grizzled veterans. Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins is an exception.
When the Penguins try to extend their winning streak to four games while taking on the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, Staal will be playing in his 400th career game. At 23 years and 108 days, Staal will become the seventh youngest player since the NHL expansion in 1967 to reach that mark.
"It's a pretty rare feat and when you consider how many playoff games (67) he's played in addition to that, it's pretty amazing for a young player," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's still a very young man but he's also a guy who, right now, has found a different level in how he plays the game more physically and what he does on the ice."
Interestingly, Staal didn't know of the feat until he arrived at Consol Energy Center. It's an added bonus for the Staal family of Thunder Bay, Ontario, that Eric Staal of the Hurricanes will be on the ice for his younger brother's 400th.
"It's nice, obviously. It's a lot of games and any player that plays that many, it's a great accomplishment," Jordan said. "Hopefully I can play many more."
Especially if he can play at his current level. Considered one of the League's best two-way forwards since his rookie season in 2006-07, Staal is on pace for one of his best seasons offensively with 13 goals and 6 assists in 30 games. His career high is 29 goals as a rookie.
While Staal has been a finalist for the Selke Trophy given for outstanding defensive play by a forward, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he isn't close to peaking.
"If you're looking for a guy to vault into the top 10 in scoring, I'm not sure that's what his upside is. But this year, the way he can dominate a game on both sides of the puck, is where his game can go," Bylsma said. "I hate even talking about him being a third-line center, because what he can do on the ice is more like a top guy on your team."
Staal is frequently called the best No. 3 center in hockey because Sidney Crosby, when healthy, and Evgeni Malkin man the Penguins' top two lines. Bylsma said Staal is much more than that to Pittsburgh.
"He can dominate the puck at both ends of the rink, defensively and offensively," Bylsma said. "Faceoffs have gone to a different level. He's a guy you can count on to win faceoffs, not to mention that his penalty kill has always been exceptional."
Staal will center the Penguins' No. 2 line against Carolina, which is coming off a 4-2 victory over New Jersey. Carolina is trying for its first three-game winning streak since Oct. 12-18; the Penguins last won four in a row during a five-game winning streak that lasted from Oct. 18 through Oct. 27.
The Penguins’ projected lineup:
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Joe Vitale - Matt Cooke
Arron Asham - Craig Adams - Jason Williams
Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Zbynek Michalek - Simon Despres
Ben Lovejoy - Alexandre Picard
Marc-Andre Fleury, second in the League with 18 wins, will be in net. He is 4-1 in his last five starts and 15-5-2 over his last 22. Brent Johnson will be the backup.