Ever since the Penguins drafted him in 2006, there have always been high expectations for Jordan Staal and so far, he has lived up to most them. After debuting in the NHL as a teenager, Staal has gone on to establish himself as one of the better two-way centers in the NHL and he has been a key part of the Pittsburgh Penguins' near dominant possession game over the last few seasons. Staal is a smart and fundamentally sound player whose overall game is still developing and getting better every year.
The one part of his game that hasn't quite lived up to some people's expectations, however, is his offensive upside. While he has put up good numbers throughout his entire career, he has yet to score over 50 points in a season and has been more lauded for his defensive strengths rather than his offensive skills. However, there are some people who believe that Staal still has a lot of untapped potential and could fit on most team's first lines if he's given the chance. He has spent almost all of his career playing on the same team as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who are two of the best centers in the NHL and it's resulted in Staal being the team's third line center for the most part. Despite that, Staal has been able to have a few 20 goal/40 point seasons in this role and it has a lot of people believing that he can accomplish a lot more if he's given more ice-time.
There is definitely some untapped offensive potential with Staal when you look at his scoring rates over the years. He has scored at a top-six rate at even strength in each of the last five years and has produced over 2 points per 60 minutes in three of the last five. He also managed to do all of this despite taking the toughest assignments the Penguins coaching staff could throw at him, so there is evidence that Staal could possibly do more if he's given a more offensive role. I don't think Staal is going to automatically turn into a first line center if he's given top minutes but he has posted great results with tough assignments on one of the best team's in the NHL for the last few years and that makes you wonder what he can do in a bigger role.
Jim Rutherford gave up a lot to get Staal on the Hurricanes, so there are going to be some very high expectations for him this season. Some might expect him to top 60+ and anything less than that would be a disappointment because of his price tag. One thing to remember is that Jordan Staal is a long-term investment for this club, as indicated by the 10-year contract Rutherford signed him to, and Staal may not be the first line center right off the bat but he will be eventually. It's also worth mentioning that a lot of Staal's contributions don't show up on the score-sheet, so he could end up being worth the cost even if his point total doesn't indicate it.
With that in mind, let's take a look at what we can expect from Jordan this season and what the odds are of him having the "breakout" year that most are hoping for.
Despite being the "third line center," Jordan Staal has received very good minutes in Pittsburgh, as he played over 15 minutes a game in each of the last two seasons. Although, it's worth noting that he missed about half of the 2010-11 season with a foot injury and returned on the same day that Sidney Crosby was sidelined with a concussion. Evgeni Malkin also missed a lot of the second half of that season, so Staal was essentially the team's first line center during the last couple of months of that season. Staal was also second on the team in even strength minutes per game last season, which is probably because Crosby missed over half of the year and the team didn't put too much pressure on him once he returned.
All of this tells you that Staal was given plenty of chances to succeed with the Penguins was wasn't constricted to being a third line center for his entire time there. He should get similar minutes in Carolina as the team's second line center, which I think is the best role for him now instead of placing him on the first line with Eric Staal. Minutes aren't going to be a problem for Staal, what I am more curious about is how Kirk Muller plans to use him in terms of matchups & zone starts. Staal played the shutdown center role for the Penguins for the last few seasons and his highest offensive zone start percentage over the last five years is 50.8%, so he is definitely used to carrying a big workload.
It wouldn't surprise me to see Muller continue to use him in a similar fashion since that would be playing to Staal's strengths but he might also want to get more offense out of him and give him some easier assignments. This is going to have a big impact on how many scoring opportunities he gets, but unfortunately we won't know what Muller's plans for him are until the season starts.
As far as ice time is concerned, however, Staal is going to be one of Carolina's top-four forwards at even strength.
Staal had 50 points in 62 games last season, so that had a lot of people wondering what he could do if he was healthy for an entire season, but he did get the aid of some shooting luck at even strength. A 13.3% EV shooting percentage isn't astronomically high but it's above what is considered the league average and is prone to regress, so I would be on the lookout for that. How this will affect his goal total will depend on the amount of shots he takes at even strength, which isn't that much compared to some of the other Carolina players we've looked at. That being said, Staal still shoots the puck a fair amount for a center, especially one who starts a majority of his shifts in the defensive zone, so I don't think the Canes have much to worry about here.
The Penguins controlled over 55% of the shots they took last season when Staal was on the ice, so he is a player that is capable of keeping the puck in the offensive zone and is going to get his opportunities no matter what role the Canes give him in the top-six. He may not be able to control play at that much of a pace because the Hurricanes are a much weaker team than the Pens, but I think he's good enough to make the Canes a better territorial team overall. This should lead to him and his line getting being able to create more shots and scoring chances but how many Staal will get per game is a good question.
I mentioned earlier that Staal doesn't shoot the puck that much but he shoots at a good rate for a center, save for the 2010-11 season, so him getting 6-7 shots per 60 minutes is a good bet for next year. If the Hurricanes choose to use him in a more offensive role then it will likely be more than that because if Staal has been able to create a decent amount of offense in a shutdown role, then he should be able to do better than that with a zone start push. I doubt he plays those assignments right off the bat, though so I'm going to say that Staal's shots on goal per game rate stays relatively in line with his career numbers.
ES on-ice Sh%
Staal's teammates shot at a lower percentage at even strength than they did in any of the previous three seasons but he ended up with more assists because he was on icef or a lot more shots. Compare that to his career numbers and it looks like an aberration but I think part of it relates to Staal spending most of his minutes with Tyler Kennedy, who is basically a machine when it comes to getting shots on goal. The Hurricanes don't have anyone that good at creating offense (TK had 13.5 shots per 60 minutes at even strength) so I'm expecting the number of shots Staal is on ice for to go down a fair bit. It's unreasonable to expect anyone on the Hurricanes to be on ice for 35 shots per 60 minutes anyway.
I'm not sure who Staal's linemates will be next year, but if it's a combination of Ruutu, Jokinen, Skinner or Semin, then he should be on-ice for about 30 shots per 60 minutes without much trouble. My belief is that Staal is good enough to carry a line on his own and he should be able to keep the puck in the offensive zone for a sustained period of time. That should result in his linemates having a decent amount of shots on goal, but one thing that might set him back is the Canes lack of players similar to him in that regard. Staal might be good enough to carry a line but Kennedy and Cooke were also doing their share of the work in Pittsburgh. His wingers in Carolina will need to do the same.
As indicated by his average on-ice shooting percentages and somewhat low assist per 60 minute totals, Staal isn't exactly what most would call a "top playmaker." Thus, his on-ice shooting percentage could be more dependent on how his linemates shoot rather than his own skill, more evidence that his linemates are going to need to make the most of Staal's play-driving abilities rather than have him do all of the work. Staal's on-ice shooting percentage was below average last season, so he could be due for some good luck in that department.
With exception to the 2010-11 season when almost everyone on the Penguins roster was hurt, Staal has never been heavily relied on for powerplay time. This is something I don't expect to change in Carolina because the Hurricanes have enough players at their disposal who can work the powerplay. Staal will still probably center the second unit, though and will receive roughly two minutes with the man advantage. Thank similar to what Jokinen got last season. I've heard some people mention that the two Staal brothers will play on the first unit but I don't see that happening with Skinner and Semin on the team. It just doesn't make much sense to me unless Muller wants to shake things up.
Staal doesn't play that much on the powerplay, therefore he doesn't have that many powerplay shots and as a result, you get rates and percentages that bounce all over the place. This makes predicting his powerplay results very difficult because he will probably be kept to second unit minutes on the Canes and end up with around 20-25 shots at the most next season. I have no idea what his shooting percentage will look like but for the sake of predictions, it's probably best to go with his career average of 11.9%.
PP On-ice Sh%
Looking at the amount of powerplay shots Staal has been on ice for over the years should tell you that he has never been that big of a producer with the man advantage, especially the last two seasons. Staal rarely got to play with Pittsburgh's top forwards on the powerplay last season, so that's could be why his shot total is so low but how much of an improvement will playing on Carolina's second PP unit provide for him? When looking at the shot metrics for Ruutu & Jokinen with the man advantage, I think it's fair to say that Staal could be on ice for more powerplay shots and have a higher assist total as a result. It's not a certainty but it's definitely possible and it's hard to do much worse than he did last season.
I have Jordan Staal projected to play an average of 14.5 minutes at even strength per game last season, which I think is fair since he will likely be the second line center and receive some time on the first line on top of that. I also think Staal will have a little more than seven shots on goal per 60 minutes (7.2 to be exact), which would equate to him having roughly 142 shots in an 82 game season. What his shooting percentage ends up looking like is probably the toughest thing to figure out in this whole process. If he matches his career high from a few years ago, he would end up with 24 even strength goals. Shooting at his five-year average would give him 16-17 goals while he could also end up with as little as 12-13 goals if his shooting percentage were to fall down an elevator shaft. Staal has consistently been able to shoot at 11-13.5% over the last few seasons, so projecting him to end up in that area is probably a safe bet. I'm going to peg him with a shooting percentage of 12.7%, which would give Jordan 18 even strength goals on the year.
Since Staal is playing on a completely new team with a new environment this season, it's a little hard to project how many total shots he will be on ice for at even strength. My thought is that if he spends most of the year on the second line with a cast featuring Ruutu, Semin, Jokinen, Skinner and Tlusty, then he should be able to be on-ice for around 30 shots per 60 minutes. All of those wingers aren't top possession drivers (except maybe Skinner) but they aren't totally helpless and can produce a decent amount of shots, especially when they are playing with someone with Staal's ability.
Staal being on ice for 30 even strength shots per 60 minutes would have him be on ice for roughly 601 total even strength shots. I don't expect his on-ice shooting percentage to fluctuate much unless one of his linemates goes on a hot streak, so I'm going to say that the Canes shoot at 9.2% with Staal on the ice, which would be a little above what he had last season. This would have him being on ice for about 55 total goals and would give him 22 assists if he records an assist on 41.1% of them. He might end up with more than that, but I'm just playing it safe and using his career average for now.
On the powerplay, I'm not expecting a whole lot from Staal because he's only going to be playing on the second unit, but he should be able to contribute there if he plays with a good set of wingers. Staal's powerplay shot rate over the last five years has been pretty random so I feel like that could go anywhere next season, but I have him with 7.8 powerplay shots per 60 minutes. That's a little lower than what he had last season but still around an average mark for him. That would give him roughly 21 powerplay shots and if he shoots at his career average of 11.8%, he would have two powerplay goals. I'm going to stick with that for now but I feel like Staal's powerplay goal total is extremely variable because due to how few shots he has there over his career.
His assist total is also somewhat variable because of this and I think it could be subject to change even more this year if he ends up being on ice for more shots per 60 minutes like I'm predicting. Ruutu and Jokinen are much better on the powerplay and Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke, so that's going to have an effect on how many powerplay goals Staal ends up being on ice for. Still, I'm not expecting it to be that much because I don't see Staal getting above the second unit for now. That could change as the season goes on, though. Overall, I'm projecting Staal to be on ice for 101 shots on the powerplay, which would have him on ice for 12-13 goals if he shoots around his career average. Staal has recorded an assist on 35.3% of the powerplay goals he was on ice for in the last five years, so if that trend continues then he would have four assists on the powerplay.
There is also the discussion of Staal's production while playing shorthanded, as he has recorded at least four shorthanded points every season in his career. This is something I shy away from predicting because it's largely variable and really, any number between 1 and 10 could end up being the number of short-handed points Staal ends up with this year. There just isn't enough data available to make an educated guess here. Staal is definitely going to get points while playing with the man down, though so keep that in mind when reading this projection.
82 Game Projection
J. Staal 2012-13
My personal projection for Staal might look a little conservative since he had 50 points in 62 games last season, but he also had a shooting percentage of 16.8% and that isn't sustainable in the long-run. This projection is also taking into account that Staal will be playing predominately on the second line and there are going to be only so many goals to go around between the top-six. I'm also limiting Staal's powerplay time a fair bit, so that could end up being one of the things that changes for him over the season. Also keep in mind that this isn't counting for short-handed production, so Staal could end up getting a little more than what I am projecting here. One of Staal's shooting percentages always seems to be out of whack in one year or another, so I wouldn't bet against that happening again and affecting his point toatl.
I know a lot of people have high expectations for Staal as a Hurricane but I just don't think that him playing more minutes is going to lead to him having first line production. It could happen and I think he may end up topping my personal projection I have set for him, but with only so many minutes to go around in the top-six, I think Staal having 45-55 points is more realistic. Some might consider that a disappointment but once again, Staal is in Carolina as a long-term solution and should serve this team well over the next few years even if he never has that "breakout" season that people seem to be hoping for.
The important thing to remember with Staal is that he is going to contribute in a lot of areas that won't show up on the score-sheet. He should be one of the team's better penalty killers and more importantly, he will hopefully improve the Hurricanes territorial game. That is something that will benefit the whole team, give the Hurricanes some possible long-term success and make him worth the package that Rutherford gave up to get him.
Stats courtesy of Behind The Net & Time on Ice