(RELATED STORY: Penguins select Staal second overall)
Celebrating a first-round draft choice is nothing new for the Staal family.
However, it was a great experience for Jordan Staal, who was selected second-overall by the Penguins on Saturday.
“I am really excited. I am really glad to be a part of this organization and hopefully I can be a part of it in the next couple years,” he said.
Staal is the third member of his family to be drafted in the first round in recent years. Eric, a Stanley Cup champ, was selected second-overall by Carolina in 2003 – right after the Penguins picked goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Marc Staal, a defenseman, went 12th overall to the Rangers last year. The youngest brother, Jared, is next – the 15-year-old will play with Sudbury in the OHL this year.
“For my parents, it’s kind of like a usual thing,” Jordan said with a laugh. “They are really excited for me and really proud of me. It’s a different thing every time. Even though this is the third time, they are ecstatic.”
Jordan wasn’t sure what to expect heading into Saturday’s festivities at the GM Place in Vancouver.
“I was a little nervous. I didn’t think I was going to be, but I was,” he said. “I was anxious to get it over with and focus on one team and my future and what I need to do to get to the next level.
“I have to work to get stronger and faster. At the next level, I know it’s much quicker and I definitely have to work on that and a lot of little points of my game need to be improved.”
The Penguins are thrilled to add Staal to their organization.
“When I was coming off the stage with Jordan, he said this was a perfect fit. I just told him I wasn’t trading the pick. In the end, I wanted him and we’re looking forward to having him,” Penguins General Manager Ray Shero said. “For us, the absolute upside of the player [separated him from the rest of the field]. He’s 17 years old and one of the youngest kids in the draft. He has a lot of room to grow. This kid has uncanny hockey sense. The bloodlines are one thing, but he’s a great hockey player. He’s so skilled. He will be a real good player for us.”
Penguins head scout Greg Malone was not only impressed with Staal’s play on the ice, but the way he carried himself off it as well.
“The more time I spent with this kid, the more impressed I was with him,” Malone said. “I think our organization is very fortunate to get a quality player on the ice, but he’s certainly a quality person off the ice.”
Staal, only 17, tallied 68 points (28+40) and 69 penalty minutes in 68 games for the Peterborough Petes. He helped guide the Petes to an OHL title and the Memorial Cup playoffs.
However, he’s not just an offensive-minded player.
“He’s a strong defensive player. He’s smart. He has great position. The nice thing is when he’s killing penalties, he creates offense for you,” Malone said. “He almost creates more offense playing short-handed than five-on-five. This year, I don’t know how many times his team was five-on-three and he created scoring chances. He plays a really, really solid defensive game.”
Staal, at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, is an imposing physical force on the ice at such a young age.
“It tells me he has a lot of room to grow,” Shero said. “He is going to be a big, strong forward for a long period of time.”
While Staal is listed as a center, he has no problems playing on the wing since the Penguins have depth down the middle with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“I will play wherever the coach puts me. As long as I get an opportunity to play, I will be happy,” he said. “Whether it’s on the right wing, left wing or center doesn’t really matter. Even defense, I will play. As long as the coaches are happy, I will be happy.”
Shero is not concerned about where Staal winds up on the ice.
“Good players want to play with good players,” he said. “When you put talented players on the ice, good things are going to happen. It’ll be up to the coaching staff to see what the fit is. The more talent we have, the better off we’re going to be.”
Eric Staal blossomed into a superstar for the Hurricanes. Jordan hopes he can follow his brother’s lead.
“He’s a great player and to be compared to him is quite an honor,” Jordan said. “Hopefully, I can follow his footsteps really closely and do as well as he is.”
Jordan is a little bigger than Eric, who is a 6-4, 205-pound center. However, Malone says Jordan is more physical.
“He plays very similar to Eric. He fishes a lot of pucks out of traffic. The one thing Jordan does over Eric is that he is a little more physical,” he said. “I am not saying he goes out there and runs over people, but he is out there and he seems to be a lot more physical.”
Penguins fans will get their first look at Jordan when the team’s rookie camp begins Sept. 7.
“We have rookie camp starting Sept. 7 and I can’t wait to see him,” Shero said. “It’s going to be a great thing. We’ll hop on the ice and hopefully we’ll have Malkin, too. It’s going to be an exciting time for the Penguins.”
Staal will have a chance to make the team with a strong showing at rookie camp and training camp.
“I don’t want to block anyone’s progress and I don’t want to block any aspirations he has for making our team next season,” Shero said. “So, we’re going to have an open mind and see how he does during the rookie camp and how he does during exhibition games and make the decision from there. I really want to make sure we’re really going to do the right thing for him long-term and that he gets the proper development. We’ll see where we are at the end of training camp.”