Weight: 220 lbs.
Drafted: 1st Round, 2006 Draft
Last Year's Ranking: 1
Jordan Staal's first year with the Hurricanes didn't go as well everyone had hoped, but when you look at his career performance, there is no doubting that he is the organization under 25 years of age. He has been a regular NHL-er for seven years and has also established himself as one of the best two-way centers in the league during that time. His reputation grew even stronger every year, as his offensive numbers improved and it got people wondering how good he could be if he wasn't confined to a third-line role with Penguins. This is what sparked him being traded to the Hurricanes and why Jim Rutherford gave up a pretty big package in order to get Staal.
It's been one year since that deal was made and right now, most fans aren't too happy with how the Hurricanes made out of it so far. Jordan didn't have the big offensive season that everyone was hoping for and the Canes finished even lower in the standings than they did the year before. So the trade looks like a bust going by that alone, but 48 games is not enough to write off this trade as a "loss." It's also not enough to write off a player with Jordan's resume, especially since his first year with the Canes really was not that bad.
Him scoring only 10 goals wasn't encouraging and some people will probably use his -18 plus-minus as evidence of "poor defensive" play, but his underwhelming boxcar numbers were mostly due to terrible shooting luck. Throughout his career, Jordan has been a high-percentage shooter and is usually the kind of player who will go to the net and bang away at rebounds for his goals. Last year, he shot at only 8.8%, which is well below his career average and the lowest shooting percentage he has posted since his sophomore season. Given that his shot per game rate was relatively the same as it was in previous seasons, I would bank on him to have more goals next year. There is no doubt he'll get the ice time and the opportunity, so I think a better offensive season is just around the corner for Jordan.
That being said, even with scoring only 10 goals, Jordan's 31 points in 48 games would be pro-rated to about 52-53 points in a full-82 game season, which really is not bad for a second line center. I know that people were expecting more after his last two years in Pittsburgh, but Jordan's first year with the Hurricanes really wasn't as horrible as some would lead to you imagine. Maybe people would feel differently if more of those points came from goals than assists? I don't know. Either way, Jordan is capable of doing more, as he showed in Pittsburgh, and the expectations for him are going to be higher than ever next year with his 10 year contract kicking in.
If Staal continues to be a 50-60 point player throughout his career, the $6 mil. cap hit will probably look like an overpayment, but this is ignoring a lot of the other things Staal does on the ice. I mentioned earlier that he was one of the best two-way centers in the league and this remained true last year, even those who believe that plus-minus is a legit stat will tell you otherwise. What has made Jordan so valuable over his entire career is his ability to play against the opposition's best players and beat them territorially. He made a living out of doing this on Pittsburgh's third line for years and did the same on the Hurricanes second line last season. Staal may have been on the ice for more goals against than previous seasons, how many of them were his own fault is debatable, but the Canes were the team controlling the play at even strength when he was on the ice and that should lead to better results in the big picture.
In addition to being a superb possession player, Jordan plays heavy minutes on the penalty kill and has scored at a high rate at even strength relative to his ice time. Despite playing a defensive role, Jordan scored over two even strength points per 60 minutes in three out of his last five seasons with the Penguins. His point production declined last year, but his numbers in past seasons was nearly first-line caliber, which is why he was so highly touted during his time in Pittsburgh.
Jordan's usage is somewhat different in Carolina, as he is playing more minutes at even strength now, but his role as his team's shutdown center is still mostly the same. I'm not sure if he'll ever have that "big" offensive season that everyone is hoping for, but he should have some great years ahead of him. He will play with more talented linemates than he did last season (A healthy Tuomo Ruutu makes a world of a difference) and I doubt he will continue to shoot as poorly as he did last season. As long as he continues to win his matchups and keep the play moving in the right direction, the goals and points at even strength will come to him. The power play might be a different story because Jordan has never been a huge producer there, but his point production & two-way play should be enough to make up for it in future seasons.
Failing to make the playoffs for the fourth year in a row is very frustrating, but I don't think it's fair to judge the Staal trade or him as a player based on last season alone. It's easy to get wrapped up in the results of a shortened year and forget that it was only 48 games and Jordan is so much better than what the results showed in a small sample of games. He has been a phenomenal player in the NHL for seven years and deserves the top spot here because of that.
Many people are always going to look back on this trade with a sense that the Canes overpaid to get Staal, but when it is all said and done, both teams will be happy they made the deal. Staal will have plenty of great seasons in Carolina and Brandon Sutter should continue to play a key role in Pittsburgh. Staal has been a difference-maker for his entire career, though and I think we will see more of that next year and beyond in Raleigh.