Jordan Staal: All in the family
By Tony Care
The National Hockey League team that selects highly touted prospect Jordan Staal in Saturday's entry draft will quickly learn the 17-year-old Thunder Bay, Ont., native isn't fazed by all the attention he receives.
Although he doesn't like to boast, Staal has a pedigree few hockey families outside the famous Sutter clan can match.
"I guess the limelight has been on our family for some time now," Staal told NHL.com. "You kind of get used to it."
In total, there are four Staal brothers with exceptional hockey ability. Eric, 21, was drafted second overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003 and has blossomed into one of the best players in the game.
During his second year as a pro, Eric recorded his first 100-point season and led the post-season with 28 points in helping the Hurricanes capture the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Marc, a 19-year-old defenceman, was selected by the New York Rangers last year and already has made an impact as part of the 2006 Canadian world junior gold medal team.
Jordan's younger brother, Jared, was the 11th pick in this year's Ontario Hockey League draft by the Sudbury Wolves. What's most impressive about Jared is that at only 15, the right-winger is already six foot two and 175 pounds.
And then there's Jordan, rated second among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting final rankings, behind American defenceman Erik Johnson.
At six foot four and 215 pounds, Jordan is bigger than brother Eric, yet with similar skills that allow him to use his hulking size and long reach to control the play.
"He sees the ice well and has the ability to carry the puck from one end to the other," recently retired Peterborough Petes coach Dick Todd told CBC Sports Online. "He has good hands, is a big kid and can skate."
Along with his three other brothers, Jordan developed his immense talent playing on a 50-by-100-foot outdoor rink built by his father Henry just after boys started walking.
After a stellar midget career, Jordan was selected third overall by the Petes in the 2004 OHL priority draft. That's when Todd began coaching him.
His talent didn't take long to surface in the OHL, where he led the Petes with 28 goals in 68 gamesen route to the Memorial Cup tournament this season.
While it would be unfair to expect Jordan to produce scoring statistics as quickly as Eric at the NHL level, many scouts feel the younger Staal is further ahead at this stage of his development.
"Next year, I think I am pretty confident I can jump in," said Staal. "It's a long shot, but as long as I get my chance, I think I'll jump on the opportunity."
However, Todd wants to see his young protege gain experience at the world junior tournament and play another year with Peterborough before jumping into the NHL pressure cooker.
He points out thatalthough Eric appeared to make a smooth transition to the NHL, the 21-year-old centre spent three years in junior and played one season in the American Hockey League during the NHL lockout.
"The lockout was very beneficial to Eric," said Todd. "He had a chance to take a year and dominate the AHL and so he gained the confidence that progressed into the NHL. There are only a few players like Sidney Crosby that can play right away."
No one knows for sure how Saturday will play out, but many draft pundits believe the St. Louis Blues will make Erik Johnson the No. 1 pick, which would then leave the Pittsburgh Penguins with a familiar situation.
Three years ago, the Penguins decided to take goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with the first pick overall and left Eric Staal for elated Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford.
There is speculation that Jordan makes too much sense at No. 2, and the Penguins could bolster a roster that already boasts an impressive array of young players, including the incredibly gifted Crosby and incoming star Evgeni Malkin.
The Penguins could also take a different direction and pick either American Phil Kessel or Winnipeg native Jonathan Toews, two highly skilled forwards.
"I am excited to go anywhere, it doesn't matter where I end up," said Jordan Staal. "If it's Pittsburgh, it's Pittsburgh. I'd be excited to go there, too, so we'll see how it ends up on draft day."
Though NHL teams put a great deal of effort into divining a prized prospect's potential three years down the road, Todd thinks it's too early to say what kind of future Jordan will have as a pro.
Todd is hesitant to put additional pressure on Staalby comparing him to current NHL stars, but he did mention some elite players his former pupil could mirror if his career goes as expected.
"I think that he could be eventually like a Joe Thornton, a player that dominates. He also has the size and stature to be like a Vincent Lecavalier or an Eric Staal."