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Bloodlines help, hinder Jared Staal's draft evaluation

by Adam Kimelman

Jared Staal registered 21 goals and 49 points in 60 games played with the OHL's Sudbury Wolves.
Jared Staal, the 17-year-old forward for the Sudbury Wolves, is a bit of a cautionary tale for scouts.

To whom, exactly, do you compare him?

Do you examine his strengths and weaknesses as compared to the other top 2008 NHL Entry Draft-eligible forwards, like Steven Stamkos, Kyle Beach and Colin Wilson? Or do you measure him against one of his three NHL-playing older brothers, Eric, Marc and Jordan?

“We caution to not weigh it too heavily,” said Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire of the Staal family name. “I think it’s a factor that should be brought in, but how far into the inner ring do you bring it?”

That will be the question facing the 30 NHL teams when they convene in Ottawa on June 20-21 for the 2008 Entry Draft.

Jared, the youngest of four brothers from the now-famed town of Thunder Bay, Ontario, had a strong second season in the Ontario Hockey League. In 60 games, he led the Wolves with 21 goals and was second with 49 points on a team that scored the fewest goals in the OHL. He also was named to the OHL All-Star Game.

The numbers aren’t quite as impressive as the ones put up by Eric or Jordan in their draft years. In 2002-03 with the Peterborough Petes, Eric had 39 goals and 98 points in 66 games, and was taken second overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003.  Jordan had 28 goals and 68 points in 68 games in 2005-06 for Peterborough and then was taken second overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006.

Marc, the only defenseman in the family, had 26 points in 65 games in 2004-05 with Sudbury before being taken 12th overall by the New York Rangers in 2005.

All three older brothers are already in the NHL. Eric has already won a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes. Jordan is still alive in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, playing third-line center for the Penguins as they enter the Eastern Conference Finals against Philadelphia. Marc, in his first year, made it to the second round of the playoffs, knocked out, ironically, by Jordan and the Penguins.

Physically, Jared measures in at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, slightly smaller than Eric (6-3, 200), Marc (6-3, 196) and Jordan (6-4, 215). But at age 17 -- he won’t turn 18 until August -- and with just two junior seasons under his belt, both his numbers and size could grow.

“Visually, genetically, he looks like (his brothers),” McGuire said.

Scouts, though, have been trying to treat Jared more like a Smith than a Staal. Al Jensen, who scouts the OHL for Central Scouting, said regardless of Jared’s last name, he would be a very well-regarded prospect, with some projecting him to be chosen late in the first round or early in the second.

When you look at a guy like that, when you’ve got the size like that, he’s got the smarts, he’s got decent puck-handling skills. … I see a big upside (and) not just because he’s a Staal. - Al Jensen
“When you look at a guy like that,” said Jensen, “when you’ve got the size like that, he’s got the smarts, he’s got decent puck-handling skills. … I see a big upside (and) not just because he’s a Staal.”

While being judged against three well-known NHL-playing brothers can be tough, McGuire believes there are more plusses than minuses. He points to one significant off-ice advantage.

“He’s got his summer time when the (Staal) boys go out and say; ‘If you want to make it, Jared, you don’t do that.’ Whereas Joey Smith goes out with the boys, and one is a baseball player, so they’re athletes, but they don’t have that depth of advice. And that’s significant.”

In total, having the Staal name certainly helps Jared, but Jensen says the proof has to come on the ice. Big name or not, talent trumps all.

“Obviously you know his brothers have been successful,” Jensen said. “Obviously maybe you keep a little bit in the back of your mind, but you can’t totally rely on that. You have to see the kid perform (and) I saw the kid perform. He drove to the net, he’s a big kid, he’s strong. Maybe he’s not a top-end guy like his brothers are, but he definitely has potential.”

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