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Staal's scoring surprises Penguins - and his big brother

NHL.com @NHL

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Eric Staal led the NHL in playoff scoring for Stanley Cup champion Carolina last season and, at age 22, is one of the league's best young players. By the end of this season, he might not be the leading scorer in his family.

Jordan Staal, the 18-year-old who went into the Pittsburgh Penguins' training camp not expecting to make the team, is enjoying a breakout season even as more-publicized teammate Evgeni Malkin gets more attention among NHL rookies.

With three goals Saturday night against Toronto and four in his past two games, Staal is edging closer to Malkin, who leads all NHL rookies with 27 goals but is now only four ahead of his teammate. And Eric has 24 goals to Jordan's 23.

"I told him I'm coming for him," Jordan Staal said Monday. "But I didn't expect it to be this close. It's kind of neat we're both doing so well and hopefully I'll catch him."

While NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby, Malkin and fast-improving goalie Marc-Andre Fleury are being credited for the Penguins' turnaround season, it may be Staal who has been the difference-maker.

When the Penguins drafted Staal No. 2 overall in June, turning down numerous trade offers for the pick, there were no real expectations he would play in the NHL this season. He didn't turn 18 until Sept. 10, and he hadn't played above the junior hockey level.

If Staal hadn't played as well as he did the first two weeks of the season, with four goals in his first eight games, he might well be playing junior hockey right now.

"Coming into the season, I was only kind of hoping to make the team," Staal said. "For it to turn out like this is pretty amazing. I'm just happy to be here and hopefully I can keep it up."

What impresses his mentor and housemate, 500-goal scorer Mark Recchi, is that Staal is doing all of this while playing out of position. A center throughout his career, he was moved to the wing because the Penguins already had Crosby and Malkin in the middle.

"He's amazing - he's gone beyond all expectations," Recchi said. "He's had to learn how to play a new position, and he's doing it as an 18-year-old in the NHL, yet he's been unbelievable. He's a force out there, a powerful skater, he holds the puck and he's already one of the best penalty-killers in the league."

The 6-foot-4 Staal's long reach has made him a force on the Penguins' penalty-killing unit, and his league-high five short-handed goals are a team record. He is a plus-14, an exceptional figure for a rookie and only one off Crosby's plus-15 for the team lead.

"I just don't like giving up goals," Staal said.

Scoring them is different.

"Once I made the team, I got more confident the longer I was around - and it just went from there," Staal said.

If it weren't for Malkin and his rookie-best 63 points, Staal might be getting consideration for the rookie of the year award.

Just as Crosby has stayed the past two seasons at team owner Mario Lemieux's house, Staal is staying at Recchi's home this season. It's the kind of housing arrangement seldom seen in other sports - no doubt Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger never considered taking a room at star guard Alan Faneca's, for example - but it is more common in hockey.

Staal likes the living arrangements, especially since he was anticipating living this winter in Peterborough, Ontario, home of his junior team last season.

"Mark has been helping me out the whole year, with the little stuff off the ice, helping me keep my mind off stuff and, when I'm on the ice, more focused," Staal said.

Big brother Eric also helps out, too, though Jordan doesn't expect as many calls in the next few months as the Penguins and Hurricanes compete for playoff position.

With 29 victories, the Penguins have 17 more than at this time last season. They also are 11-0-2 in their past 13 games heading into Wednesday's home game against Chicago.

"He's not giving me a whole lot of feedback," Jordan Staal said, smiling, "He knows I'm coming for him."

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