GLENDALE, Ariz. – Making the NHL is tough enough. Imagine trying to do it after watching all three of your brothers take the leap and thrive once they arrived on the big stage.
That’s the task now facing 19-year-old Jared Staal at Phoenix Coyotes training camp – the fourth of four Staal boys currently skating in NHL camps. Unlike Eric (Carolina), Marc (N.Y. Rangers) and Jordan (Pittsburgh), Jared isn’t expected to crack his team’s lineup this season.
The most important thing is that he doesn’t feel as though as he has to.
It’s taken the youngest Staal brother some time to learn that he doesn’t have to constantly justify the recognition and attention that comes with his last name.
“When I was younger, I think I took it the wrong way,” said Staal. “I thought I had to live up to what they were doing or whatever. Now I’m just proud for them, how well they’re doing, and I couldn’t be more happy for the success they’ve had.
“I was pretty young when it first all started happening and I didn’t really know how to take it.”
The pressure doesn’t come just from having three brothers in the NHL – it’s also how they arrived there.
The older Staals were all first-round draft picks and Eric and Jordan each made the jump as teenagers. Marc, the lone defenceman in the family, was 20 when he earned a spot on the Rangers blue-line.
It’s something the Coyotes have kept in mind while monitoring Jared’s development.
“I think it’s difficult for him because he is not anywhere nearly as advanced physically as his brothers were at the same stage and of course everybody’s comparing them,” said Coyotes GM Don Maloney. “But we’re not. We look at him as a long-term project.”
In fact, Maloney says the team’s hockey operations department didn’t expect Staal to be playing in the NHL for five years when it drafted him 49th overall in 2008.
Naturally, the young winger would like to challenge that timeline.
Staal spent some of the summer working out with his brothers in their hometown of Thunder Bay, Ont., and feels a little more comfortable at the start of his second NHL camp. Ideally, he wants to make it as difficult as possible for management to send him back to the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves.
“Hopefully, I can just stay here as long as possible, that’s my goal,” said Staal. “I hope I get a good look. I’m just trying to show them that I can play at this level. Hopefully, I’ll leave a good impression.”
He follows a long line of younger brothers that have had to play in the shadow of their famous siblings – guys like Brent and Keith Gretzky, Brett Lindros and in more recent years, Fedor Fedorov.
Jared Staal looks like his brothers and stands just as tall, measuring six foot three and 210 pounds. However, there is one noticeable difference – a big gap-toothed smile courtesy of a puck to the face last year.
“Some guy was clearing it and I turned at the wrong second and it kind of caught my teeth,” said Staal.
There isn’t much point in undergoing dental surgery right now.
“They can’t drill (a new tooth) in because if I get hit again it would be another big mess,” said Staal. “I’ve just got to keep that until I’m done playing hockey I guess.”
As long as he’s doing that, he expects to be constantly reminded about his family’s deep hockey roots.
In fact, it’s something opposing players have already been using against him in the form of trash talk for some time now. Not very successfully, he adds.
“You just laugh it off,” said Staal. “It’s going to happen, I expect it. Doesn’t really bother me too much, I’ve been playing with it for a few years now. I’m getting used to it.”
He’s feeling more comfortable with the extra attention off the ice as well.
“It probably helps to have more eyes looking at me,” said Staal. “That’s what I need right now. At the point I am in my career, the more people that look at me the better.”
One of the highlights of the summer came when Jordan brought the Stanley Cup back to the family farm – the second brother to do so following Eric’s turn with the trophy in 2006.
That’s not something very many prospects get to see first-hand and it seems to have lit a little fire under the youngest Staal.
“That was an awesome time, I couldn’t be more proud,” said Staal. “It made really realize how much dedication it takes to win the Cup. I want to have a party like that someday.”