“I was a healthy scratch. I wasn’t too happy,” Staal recalled. “It was my first year. I was still young. I was just scared I was going to get sent down (to juniors). A lot of things have changed for sure.”
Staal didn’t know it at the time, but over the next three-plus seasons that contest would be the only one in which he wouldn’t step on the ice. Staal has played in 323 of a possible 324 games in his career, including the postseason.
What’s more, Staal has played every game since that Florida game, a stretch of 249 consecutive games that ranks fourth on the franchise’s all-time list. He is only six games shy of surpassing teammate Evgeni Malkin
(254) for third place.
Staal will play his 250th straight contest against the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night at Mellon Arena at 7:30 p.m. Staal, who is an imposing figure at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, has managed to remain healthy through the trials, tribulations, bumps and bruises that come at the National Hockey League level.
“I think someone’s watching out for me up there,” Staal said. “I’ve been really fortunate. I just try to get the rest at the right times and at the same time keeping your body in good shape, so you don’t pull any muscles like groins or anything like that.”
But Staal’s ironman streak isn’t just impressive because of his ability to remain healthy. Rather, Staal’s accountability and strong play on the ice have really made his consecutive games run an outstanding feat.
“He’s a good player,” Malkin said. “He’s a big player, strong, very strong and he never stops. He scores and never has bad games. He can shoot. He can hit. He can do everything. He’s a smart player. He’s consistent because he tries to score on every shift and plays hard.”
“He’s obviously a good player,” linemate Tyler Kennedy
said. “He’s a big boy and he’s got hands on him too. That’s a deadly combination. It’s awesome when he’s out there. He makes things easy for us. He’s a horse out there.”
Staal really emerged in last season’s Stanley Cup championship run. He was matched up against opposing team’s top players and was successful at shutting them down. Just consider that he held Philadelphia sniper Jeff Carter, who placed second in the NHL with 46 goals in the regular season, to just one goal in six postseason games and brother Eric Staal to just one goal in the Eastern Conference finals.
Staal is already considered one of the best shutdown centers in the league. But he is also one of the top two-way centers in the league. But his strong defensive play has also been a result of great work in the offensive zone. Staal, along with linemates Matt Cooke
and Tyler Kennedy
, established an offensive zone presence that pinned opponent’s in their own zone and forced their great offensive players to play defense.
“I think that to be successful you’ve got to have different types of players and Jordan’s strength is his responsibility in his own end,” Cooke said. “He can score goals and he’s proven that. But I think that part of the way that we are able to have success is, if we’re playing against a top line, to force them to play in their own end.”
Every time you see him you’d think he’s been in the league 10 years. The experience that he’s gained in that time, he’s way ahead of any other player at that point in his career. The bright thing is that he’s still young and has time to develop, get better and better and that’s a very encouraging thing. - Tony Granato
“Every time you see him you’d think he’s been in the league 10 years,” assistant coach Tony Granato said. “The experience that he’s gained in that time, he’s way ahead of any other player at that point in his career. The bright thing is that he’s still young and has time to develop, get better and better and that’s a very encouraging thing.”
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Staal is only 21 years old because of how polished he already is as a player. But he continues to work and hone different aspects of his game so he can become an all-around better player.
“Just little things like faceoffs, penalty kill, little things have gotten better,” he said. “I still need to work on a lot of things and I can keep improving.”
One area that Staal has been emphasizing is using his superior size and talent to his advantage.
“Sometimes I don’t realize how big I am and how I can create offense down low,” Staal said. “I’ve been trying to work on it more and more and use it in practice and work on it in games as well. It’s something I can still get better at.”
Staal is starting to really find his offensive touch. He has points in eight of his last 10 games. And in those last 10 contests he has three goals, seven assists and 10 points.
“He’s playing very well right now,” Malkin said.
And maybe his great play will catch the attention of Steve Yzerman and Team Canada. Staal was invited to his home country’s Olympic camp in preparation for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
Team Canada will be setting their roster within the next month and although Staal would love to represent his country, he was happy to be apart of the experience.
“It was fun. It was a little nerve racking being around all those great players,” Staal said. “It’s something that I’ll never forget. It was a tough camp but at the same time it was nice to meet all the guys, meet the people running it and it should be an interesting what happens.
“It was an honor. I was pretty shocked when I got the call. I was super excited about it. It was a big confidence boost to be invited to the camp with so many great players. It was a lot of fun.”
Staal has already accomplished so much in his young career, yet at 21 years old his best days are still ahead of him.
“When you look at him and how well he’s played and you realize that at that age there is a lot more in front of him as far as development, better hockey,” Granato said. “That’s always exciting for an organization. He’s a long way from reaching his prime.
“The experience that he has and the big games that he’s play in, the success he’s had, it’s incredible for someone so young.”