Staal, a centre throughout his amateur career who often played on the wing last season, was back at his preferred position. Staal was at centre on the No. 3 line with Ryan Malone at left wing and Colby Armstrong at right wing.
The top line had NHL scoring champion Sidney Crosby between Mark Recchi and Petr Sykora, while NHL rookie of the year Evgeni Malkin was between Gary Roberts and Erik Christensen – another centre on a team loaded with them.
Staal, coming off a 29-goal rookie season, wants to play center but, at age 19, didn’t feel comfortable lobbying for the move.
“It was tough (last year), no question about it,” Staal said of playing on a wing. “It is a totally different game out there. You think a lot different. But overall I got both of them (wing positions) down pat. They’ll put me where they’ll put me.”
There is no guarantee Staal will stay at centre, as line combinations that held throughout training camp have been known to change a few shifts into the season opener.
“There is a lot more responsibility in your own end, being a center,” Staal said. “You have to be able to use your speed and that you are always skating fast.”
For now, Therrien plans to keep Staal in the middle.
“He (Staal) knows that when we talked to him last year at the end of the season that our plan was for him to become a centre,” Therrien said. “We will evaluate him during the exhibition games and then make a decision.
“We try to balance our lines the best we can. It is about getting an opportunity for players, to see how they fit. We liked (Christensen’s) skill and the way he shoots the puck. He has a great release, there is no doubt.”
Christensen was on a line with two proven scorers – Malkin’s 33 goals last season were three fewer than Crosby’s team-high 36. But he has mostly played left wing when he wasn’t at centre.
“I did not feel (comfortable). It is different from the left (wing),” he said. “You are catching everything on your backhand. But getting a chance to play with Malkin and Gary Roberts, I just want to feel like I have an opportunity to have some success.”
Other line combinations included Tim Brent at centre between Jarkko Ruutu and Georges Laraque, and Maxime Talbot at centre with first-round draft pick Angelo Esposito and Adam Hall, who is on a tryout.
The defencemen pairings included Darryl Sydor and Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik and Ryan Whitney, Mark Eaton and rookie Kristopher Letang and Rob Scuderi with Mike Weaver.