PITTSBURGH (AP) -The Pittsburgh Penguins ended any debate about whether they should re-sign Jordan Staal, locking up the 20-year-old center with a $16 million, four-year contract on Thursday.
The deal begins at the start of next season and runs through the 2012-13 season. Staal, who recently became the youngest player to appear in 200 NHL games, will play the rest of this season under the three-year entry level contract he signed after being the No. 2 pick in the 2006 draft.
Staal will make $3.5 million in each of the first two seasons and $4.5 million in each of the final two. The contract will count $4 million against the Penguins' salary cap each season.
Staal went into Thursday night's game in Nashville with 52 goals and 39 assists for 91 points in 204 career games. He scored 29 goals as a rookie in 2006-07 and finished second to teammate Evgeni Malkin in the Calder Trophy rookie of the year voting.
Since that season, Staal has been inconsistent - one reason there was some debate whether the Penguins should wait until the end of this season to begin negotiations with him.
"Part of this contract is that we hope his best hockey is ahead of him," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said in Nashville. "Everybody is looking for good, young players and he fits that criteria, certainly. We'll see where it goes, but we don't sign a guy with the intent of trading him. It was always my intention to sign him, to get him under contract, because we see him as a big part of our future. It was the same as with (defenseman) Ryan Whitney."
The Penguins made certain Whitney didn't become a restricted free agent by signing him to a $24 million, six-year contract last July. Without a new contract, Staal would have become a restricted free agent on July 1.
Staal scored 12 goals last season, or 17 fewer than his rookie season, and he has 11 goals and 10 assists for 21 points in 41 games this season.
Of Staal's 11 goals this season, three came in the third period against Detroit on Nov. 11. He has not played well lately, with a plus-minus rating of minus-9 in his last 10 games. He has only one assist during that span, finishing with a minus rating in seven games.
Since scoring five goals in a three-game span from Nov. 11-15, Staal has four goals and six assists in 24 games and is a minus-11.
"He's so young," Shero said. "He's going to get better as a player. ... He's a kid that's going to get better as his career moves forward."
Staal is one of three brothers playing in the NHL. Eric Staal led Carolina to the Stanley Cup in 2006, while Marc is a New York Rangers defenseman. A younger brother, Jared, is a Phoenix Coyotes prospect.