Center Jordan Staal may wear red now as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, but he was an integral part of Penguins history. Staal played his first six NHL seasons in Pittsburgh, and was instrumental in helping the team claim two Eastern Conference championships and a Stanley Cup title in 2009.
Staal faces off against his former teammates for the first time Thursday in Carolina. Until then, here’s a look back at his best career moments from his days in a Penguins’ sweater…
In the 2012 playoffs, the Penguins were facing elimination in Game 4 at Philadelphia. With everything on the line, Staal had the greatest individual performance of his career.
Staal recorded his first career postseason hat trick as the Penguins staved off elimination with a 10-3 victory. He was completely dominant all over the ice, both offensively and defensively.
Even though the Penguins eventually fell to the Flyers in six games, Staal had his best career playoff series. He led the team in goals (6) and points (9) and established himself as a dominant force.
Jordan Staal scored his first career hat trick at the age of 18 years, 153 days – the youngest player in NHL history to score three goals in a game. And what’s more, the Thunder Bay, Ontario native accomplished the feat in Toronto against the Maple Leafs – the team he grew up dreaming of playing for.
It was on Feb. 10, 2007, during his rookie campaign that Staal made NHL history. He scored two goals in the first two periods. But after 60 minutes of play, the contest went into overtime with the two teams tied at 5-5.
In overtime there was a scramble in front of the Toronto net, Staal located the puck and whipped a wrist shot past goalie Andrew Raycroft for the hat trick, for the win and for the record.
The Penguins drafted Staal with the No. 2-overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, the first draft selection by then newly-hired general manager Ray Shero.
Staal attended the team’s training camp only a week after his 18th birthday. The youngster impressed the coaching staff so much that he made the 23-man roster to open the season, although the club still had an option to return him to his junior club in Peterborough.
But Staal would never spend another day outside of the NHL. He opened the season as one of the club’s top penalty killers and quickly established himself as threat to score while disadvantaged.
Staal’s first three goals in the league were shorthanded tallies. He set an NHL record with seven shorthanded goals by a rookie during the 2006-07 season. Staal also became the youngest player in NHL history to score two shorthanded goals in one game, including one on a penalty shot, Oct. 26, 2006 against Columbus.
The Penguins played in one of the most dramatic regular-season contests Nov. 11, 2008 against the Detroit Red Wings. The game was a rematch of the ’08 Stanley Cup Final, a series that saw the Red Wings triumph in six games. What’s more, two players on the Penguins roster defected to Detroit – superstar Marian Hossa and goalie Ty Conklin.
The Red Wings had a 5-3 lead eight minutes into the third period. But the Penguins, and Staal, weren’t done yet. Staal would tallied to cut the lead to one goal, however Detroit countered with a score by Jiri Hudler to make it a 6-4 contest.
Staal scored his second goal of the game with 4:09 to play to once again cut the deficit to one goal. Then with just 22.8 seconds remaining in the game, Staal found a loose puck in the slot and batted it past goalie Chris Osgood to record his second career hat trick and tie the game at 6-6. All three of Staal’s goals were scored in the third period in an 11:29-minute span.
But Staal wasn’t finished there. He stole the puck in the neutral zone and carried toward the goal for a two-on-one. He made a quick cross-ice pass to Ruslan Fedotenko, who one-timed a blast into the goal to give the Penguins an incredible 7-6 come-from-behind victory.
Perhaps the biggest play in Staal’s career, and one of the biggest moments in Penguins’ history, occurred in Game 6 of the ’09 Stanley Cup Final at Mellon Arena.
The Red Wings were one win away from capturing back-to-back Cups against the Penguins. Detroit rolled over Pittsburgh in Game 5 in Detroit with a 5-0 victory. The Red Wings returned to Pittsburgh for Game 6 with a chance to repeat as champions.
It was a scoreless first period, but Staal came through in the opening minute of the second period to set the tone. He chipped a puck past Valtteri Filppula at the Pittsburgh blue line and retrieved it for a two-on-one. Staal ripped a shot on goal from the slot that Osgood stopped. However, Staal found his own rebound and slammed it into the goal to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.
(Staal also scored a huge shorthanded goal against the Red Wings in Game 4 of the series, but his Game 6 goal made the Penguins forget the Game 5 debacle and believe they could defeat the Red Wings).
The Penguins would hold on for a 2-1 victory in Game 6. They followed that with another 2-1 victory in Game 7 in Detroit. That’s where Staal, at the age of 20, hoisted his first career Stanley Cup and the third in Penguins’ history.
Those are just a few of Staal’s many memorable moments with the Penguins. What are some of your favorite memories of old No. 11?