When the season began, the Penguins were expected to return Staal, the No. 2 pick in the June draft, to the OHL’s Peterborough Petes after nine games. The move would have prevented the first year of Staal’s three-year entry-level contract from kicking in.
However, Staal has played so well he moved up to the Penguins’ No. 2 line last week after fellow rookie Evgeni Malkin shifted to the top line with Sidney Crosby. Staal has four goals and an assist in nine games and played more than 17 minutes in the Penguins’ 8-2 victory at Philadelphia on Saturday.
The six-foot-four Staal’s long reach and stickhandling have made him one of the most-used penalty killers on a team that is off to a 6-3 start. The Penguins began last season by losing their first nine games.
“Jordan has earned a spot on our roster,” Penguins general manager Ray Shero said in a release. “We all knew about his skill level when we drafted him, but his work ethic, maturity and consistent effort have enabled him to make what normally is a difficult transition for a teenager.”
The Penguins are returning 19-year-old defenceman Kristopher Letang to Val d’Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Letang had two goals in seven games before being scratched from the Penguins’ last two games.
If the Penguins had sent Staal, back to his junior team, he could not have rejoined them until Peterborough’s season was over. Staal, whose older brother Eric plays for the Carolina Hurricanes, also could not have been sent to one of their minor league teams.
By deciding to keep Staal, the Penguins face the prospect that both he and Malkin – who has five goals in his first five games – will become restricted free agents following the 2008-09 season. The Penguins can retain both by matching any offers to them.
Previously, the Penguins expected that Crosby (2008), Malkin (2009) and Staal (2010) would become restricted free agents in consecutive seasons, rather than having two do so in the same year.
When Staal, Letang and the 19-year-old Crosby scored goals against the Rangers on Oct. 12, it was the first time in 24 years three teenagers scored in the same game for an NHL team.