“I’m really excited to be a part of the organization with the way they’re headed,” Staal said. “The city of Pittsburgh has treated me so well so far, and I want to keep playing for the Penguins and enjoying the city of Pittsburgh.”
Staal will play out the remainder of this season under the terms of his entry-level deal. The new contract goes into effect at the start of the 2009-10 season and will run through 2012-13.
“We’re happy to have him signed,” General Manager Ray Shero said. “He’s a good fit for us. He’s been a good player for our team, a successful team - which is important too. I think it works out well for both of us. I’m glad we got it done at this point. I really didn’t want it to drag on too much longer.”
Negotiations began between the two parties in the offseason with both sides merely discussing the proper timetable to start hammering down a deal.
“We had some discussions in the offseason, not really about a contract, just the proper time when both sides were comfortable,” Shero said. “Maybe it was going to be before the year, during the year or after the year, but we had to find the right time when both sides would be comfortable and we did.”
The deal really began to materialize over the past couple of months. The Penguins annual “Dads’ Trip” provided a perfect backdrop for completing the deal.
“We had this fathers’ trip and we figured this would be a time to come to some sort of conclusion one way or the other to try to get something done or if both sides would wait,” Shero said. “His father was here and we sat down (Wednesday) with (Staal) to go over everything. It worked out well.”
Now that the deal is done, Staal can put this behind him concentrate solely on playing hockey.
“It’s definitely nice to not have to worry about and have it creeping around in the back of your mind,” Staal said. “Obviously, I’m really excited to get it over with. It started a while ago and it takes time to do these kinds of deals. I understood that and they did as well. We finally reached an agreement that we both thought was fair.”
“With Jordan, he’s a strong two-way presence and that’s going to get better as he continues to mature as a player,” Shero said. “So far it’s been a real good fit for both and he’s been a big part of our success for the first two years.”
Pittsburgh has made it a priority to keep their top-end talent in tact. Now that Staal is secure, the Penguins have locked up a strong nucleus of players on the roster, including six first-round picks. The following players are under contract for the next two seasons: Brooks Orpik
, Ryan Whitney, Marc-Andre Fleury
, Evgeni Malkin
, Sidney Crosby
, Tyler Kennedy
and Maxime Talbot.
“It’s important because these are really good young assets for us,” Shero said. “They’re part of a group that’s had success in the past. Now we basically have these guys signed and it gives us some certainty moving forward planning-wise. We’re not guessing and it helps solidify what we’re doing going forward."
Staal’s role with the team has also expanded during his three-year tenure. Head coach Michel Therrien bestowed some of the team’s leadership onto Staal’s shoulder by naming him an alternate captain for the month of December.
“This is a guy that we are counting on for the future," Therrien said at the time. "I like the way that Jordan is playing. He’s responsible defensively, good at penalty killing. You can see that he’s got more confidence than he used to have in the past, offensively.”
The Penguins now have a nice problem with three quality centers with Crosby, Malkin and Staal signed to long-term deals. Staal has appeared almost exclusively as the Penguins’ third-line center this season but Therrien has said that Staal is a top-two line talent.
One possible solution is moving Staal to wing, a position that he played during his successful rookie season.
“He’s versatile,” Shero said. “That’s an added benefit for him. He can play both positions. I went through that with him as well, not only just in the last month but in terms of his career here, in terms of his comfort level playing center or wing. He’s comfortable playing both. He has that flexibility.”
With Jordan, he’s a strong two-way presence and that’s going to get better as he continues to mature as a player. So far it’s been a real good fit for both and he’s been a big part of our success for the first two years. - Ray Shero
Staal opened this year on right wing with Malkin and Petr Sykora for a brief stint before moving back to center, his natural position. Now, Therrien is putting Staal at left wing with Crosby and Kennedy. Left wing may turn out to be a better fit than right wing for the 20-year old, considering that he is a left-hand shot.
“Wherever the coach wants to put me, I’ll play,” Staal said. “Whether it’s left wing or center, I’m pretty comfortable in both positions. I’m happy to play wherever.”
“I don’t mind playing with a guy like Sid. Obviously, you want to play with good players. We’ll see where it takes me. It’s so hard to tell right now what’s going to happen. If it sticks, it sticks. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Right now, I’m just going to go out and play my best and see what happens.”
Staal joined the organization when the Penguins selected the Thunder Bay, Ontario native with second-overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
“I was pretty surprised, getting the call when the Penguins picked me,” Staal remembered. “I didn’t really know where I was going on draft day. With Sid and Geno getting drafted the years before, I was really excited to be a part of the team.”
Staal made the Penguins’ roster as an 18-year-old rookie that season and blossomed. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound forward excelled at both ends of the ice. He scored 29 goals and 42 points, adding seven short-handed scores, while leading the team with a plus-16 rating.
Staal finished second for the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) behind teammate Malkin, and earned a spot on the NHL’s YoungStars’ roster. He’s only missed one game in his entire career and became the youngest player in NHL history to play in his 200th game at 20-years, 111-days old.
My first year, I didn’t really know what to expect and played really well. Last year, I thought I grew even more throughout the season and through the playoffs. Hopefully, I can keep learning and keep getting better as a hockey player. - Jordan Staal
“My first year, I didn’t really know what to expect and played really well,” Staal said. “Last year, I thought I grew even more throughout the season and through the playoffs. The way our team grew together and the way I improved my game, to make it to the Stanley Cup, I thought I learned a lot last year. Hopefully, I can keep learning and keep getting better as a hockey player.”
With his maturity poise, it’s easy to forget that Staal is only 20 years old. He’s still a very young player. He has a ton of upside and room to grow. Now, at least Staal knows that he’ll do that growing in Pittsburgh.
“He’s still evolving, which is the good news,” Shero said. “When you sign younger players like that, with the entry-level contract and you get into the second contract, you’re hopeful that they’re still evolving as players - which I know Jordan is. As we move forward here, he’s going to grow into this contract. That’s good news for him and for us.”