Jordan Staal gets one final chance to convince the organization to make an early investment on the young rookie, and the Pittsburgh Penguins look for their fourth consecutive win on Saturday as they visit the Philadelphia Flyers.
The 18-year-old first-round draft choice has been at the center of a controversy over whether the Penguins (5-3-0) should keep Staal with the team or send him back to the junior hockey in Peterborough, Ontario.
The center scored his fourth goal of the season - and third in the last two games - in the team's 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.
"I think by his play he's proven he can play here, but outside of that he can't do anything," said teammate Sidney Crosby, who also scored and added an assist on Evgeni Malkin's third-period goal Tuesday. "It's out of his control. He can look himself in the mirror and say he's done his best."
Because he's so young, Staal still has junior major hockey eligibility remaining. After the ninth game of the season, his three-year NHL rookie contract kicks in if he remains on Pittsburgh's roster. Keeping him would require the Penguins to pay him and fellow rookie Malkin major money as restricted free agents in 2009, a year after having to re-sign Crosby.
"They're giving me a lot of opportunities, and I'm trying to do my best and hopefully keep the ball rolling," Staal said.
Joining Staal, Malkin and Crosby as Pittsburgh's stars of the future is goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has won three straight starts and is facing the team against which he had his best performance of the season. Fleury stopped 40 shots in a 4-0 win over Philadelphia in the season opener for both teams.
That game was a sign of things to come for the Flyers (2-6-1), who saw longtime general manager Bobby Clarke resign and coach Ken Hitchcock get fired on Sunday with the team off to its worst start in 17 years.
Philadelphia won its first game under new coach John Stevens with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday. Center Randy Robitaille scored his first goal of the season 1:57 into the game, and Peter Forsberg had the game-winner in the second round of the shootout.
"When you make a change like this, this is what should happen when you get a new coach, a new energy to the team," said Forsberg, who also scored a power-play goal in the third period despite being bothered by a sore wrist. "We came out the way we should come out."
Stevens announced Antero Niittymaki, who has recorded both of the team's wins and has received most of the starting time, will start. Stevens wants to get a look at Robert Esche, who is 0-2 with a 6.50 goals-against average this season.
"I met with both goalies (Tuesday) and told them I think it's important that we get both playing," said Stevens. "We haven't made any firm decision past Thursday, but Esche will get in the net here real soon."
Esche is 4-4 with two ties and a 2.49 GAA facing the Penguins while Niittymaki is 4-0 with a 3.32 GAA.
After playing six of their first eight games on the road, the Flyers are playing the second game of a five-game homestand which ends next Saturday against the Washington Capitals.
Pittsburgh has won only twice in its last 13 games at Philadelphia.