(PRESS RELEASE: Staal to remain with Penguins.)
Numbers don’t matter to Jordan Staal.
He just wants to play in the NHL.
That’s exactly where he’ll be as the Pittsburgh Penguins elected to keep the 18-year-old on their roster rather than return him to his junior team, the Peterborough Petes.
“He earned it. Basically, he earned to be with us; he earned to be in the NHL,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “Earlier in the year there were not many people who thought we’d have to make this type of decision. He played really well.”
Staal, the second-overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, has recorded four goals and one assist for five points in nine games. He is averaging 13:14 of ice time and played more than 17 minutes in the Penguins’ 8-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday night.
“I am happy to be on the team. I am not going to change anything with my game. I will just keep playing like I was and hopefully keep contributing,” he said. “You have to keep playing consistent hockey to stay in this league. I come out every shift playing hard and I am just glad to be on the team.”
Staal has made some major changes to the record books in his young NHL career:
He became the first player since 1982 to score his first three NHL goals short-handed. Bill Gardner (Chicago) also scored his first three NHL goals short-handed. Both he and Staal played junior hockey for Peterborough.
On Oct. 21 vs. Columbus, Staal (18 years, 41 days) became the youngest NHL player to score two or more goals in one game since Dec. 21, 1943 when Bep Guidolin (18 years, 12 days) scored twice for Boston in an 8-5 win over Toronto.
Staal is the youngest NHL player ever to score a pair of short-handed goals in one game, breaking the record set by Radek Dvorak (Florida) on Dec. 12, 1997 (20 years, 278 days).
Staal is also the youngest player in NHL history to score on a penalty shot, breaking the record previously held by Nathan Horton (Florida) (18 years, 224 days) on Jan. 8, 2004.
“We’re a young team and we take a lot of pride in being a young team, but that means young players have to contribute to our team. Jordan is playing a mature game for his age. He has a lot of skills; he has a great work ethic and we’re more than excited to announce he’ll be here,” Therrien said. “It’s a hockey decision, there’s no doubt. In the meantime, we’re looking to the future for the franchise and this hockey team and we figure this is the best decision for Jordan Staal – to stick with us in Pittsburgh.”
Staal earned his place in the NHL through hard work, according to teammate Sidney Crosby.
“He has done a great job. He’s definitely earned his right to continue proving he can play at this level,” he said. “He has long strides, but he does have speed. He’s a big guy and he’s so strong. I think the biggest thing is his work ethic. He’s worked really hard to adjust and improve his game as the season has gone on.”
The NHL learning curve was a short one for Staal, who adapted well to the high level of play.
“I just kept improving. From the first game to the ninth game, I think my game has definitely stepped up,” he said. “I think I am getting faster out there and thinking quicker. If I can keep that going, I think I can be a good player.”
The learning process continues for the youngster, who has been centering the Penguins’ second line.
“The more games I’ve played out there, the more comfortable I have felt and the more confidence I have built and the game has gotten slower for me,” he said. “Hopefully, the game slows down even more.”
Meanwhile, the Penguins returned 19-year-old defenseman Kris Letang to his junior team in Val d’Or. A second-round draft pick in 2005, Letang registered two goals in seven games with the Penguins. He recorded 25 goals and 68 points in 60 games last season for Val d’Or and also represented Canada at the World Junior Championships. It is expected that he will again play for Canada at this year’s WJC.
“We like the kid. He had a great experience. He has a bright future ahead of him and we like the way he’s playing,” Therrien said. “He is a kid that definitely, if he keeps progressing, we are expecting will eventually play in the NHL and have some success with our team. But, it’s a little bit different for defensemen and forwards. He’s going to go down there and have a good season, we hope, and play for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. I think it was a great experience for him to stick around with us as long as he did.”