Paul Stastny hopes to help young Jets weather inevitable turbulence of playoffs
Deadline acquisition has clicked with linemates Laine and Ehlers
Paul Stastny is no stranger to the highs and lows of playoff hockey.
In 2014-15, Stastny got his first taste of the St. Louis Blues' recent tradition of post-season disappointment after the team finished on top of the Central Division only to flame out in the first round for the third straight year.
But the following season, the Blues made it all the way to the Western Conference final for the first time in 15 years, defeating the arch-rival Chicago Blackhawks along the way.
So after a trade-deadline deal that sent him to Winnipeg, the 33-year-old is hoping he can use his experience to help keep a Jets club, the fourth-youngest in the league, stay level-headed as many of its unseasoned stars face their first post-season test.
55 playoff games
Stastny has never won a Stanley Cup in his 11 seasons in the NHL, but his 55 games of playoff experience are tops on a young and talented Jets squad that sits third in the Western Conference with 98 points going into Wednesday's games.
"When you win two games and you think you're going to win it all, and then all of sudden you lose two games and you feel like it's the end of the world, that's where you've got to be teaching guys literally one game at a time how fast things change, and that you've just got to enjoy it," Stastny says of the NHL playoffs.
"Because I don't think people realize how good of a team they have here."
Stastny, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, has thrived since the Jets acquired him from St. Louis on Feb. 26.
Slotting in between Patrik Laine and Nik Ehlers, the playmaking centre has 10 points in 10 games, giving him 50 points in 73 games on the season.
Not coincidentally, Stastny's arrival has propelled Laine's recent run of success. The goal-scoring phenom was in the midst of a record 15-game point streak by a teenager until it was snapped on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings. Laine left the game in the second period with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot. He is currently just a goal behind his idol Alex Ovechkin in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy with 43.
At five-on-five, the Stastny-Laine-Ehlers line has a Corsi For Percentage of 56.28, making it one of the best in terms of puck possession on a deep Jets team.
Stastny said the newly formed trio has been successful because he has been able to focus on the defensive zone and getting Laine and Ehlers the puck. And then he can sit back and watch them put it in the opposing net.
"[With] both of those guys, there's a potential to score anytime they have the puck and they have the defenceman on their heels, so it's been easy to click with them and it's been fun for me," he said.
Stastny compares the young Finn's potential to that of Nathan MacKinnon, whom he spent a season with in Colorado before moving to St. Louis.
Stastny said what makes Laine special is he understands that to score he can't sit in one spot, must create turnovers and be hard on the forecheck to create extra shot opportunities. Stastny said the 19-year-old doesn't "waste many shots," and will try to find a better angle by moving the puck or by stickhandling to a better position.
Having a rocket of a release, which is also difficult to read, doesn't hurt either.
"I've played with some good scorers, but I think it's gotta be a nightmare for goalies," Stastny said. "I've seen him go low-glove, high-glove, high-blocker, low-blocker, five-hole and all of them look like the same release and they're quick, too.
"He doesn't take his time with it and that's why he's one of the premier goal-scorers in this league."
Stastny said the on-ice enthusiasm of the Jets' young talents — which, in addition to Laine and Ehlers includes the likes of Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Kyle Connor and Connor Hellebuyck — is infectious, and he can't help but laugh at their antics off the ice.
Especially Laine's and Ehlers's well-documented love for video games.
Feed off energy
"I was in that position earlier in my career and I remember the older guys kind of laughing about it," Stastny said, adding that those years between youngster and veteran go fast.
"You feed off their energy on the ice [but] somehow those guys on off-days are more tired than guys with families and kids, which doesn't make sense," he said with a laugh.
And come playoff time, Stastny wants to help guide the team's youth and veterans so they don't "over-perform" or put too much pressure on themselves as the Jets make their first post-season in three years and second since returning to Winnipeg in 2011.
"You'll be able to see it. If certain guys are doing well, you don't want them to get too high and at the same time you let them be, and I think it's more when guys think they're struggling, but they're doing the little things and eventually it's going to turn, they just need to stay the course and stay positive.
"The best players are the ones that are the most consistent, that don't change their game," he said. "The moment might be bigger, but [they have] that same kind of swagger, the same kind of playing ability, no matter when it is in season, or when it is in the game."