The 21-year-old Colorado Avalanche centre already has 14 points (5-9) in nine games. Never mind the second-year jinx, he’s well on his way to becoming one of the NHL’s elite players.
“People around me reminded me this summer, ‘Don’t get complacent, just keep working. This year will be harder than the year before. You can’t relax out there and feel it’s going to be as easy as last year,”‘ Stastny told The Canadian Press on Thursday.
The Avs are coming off a 4-2 win at Edmonton on Tuesday night and continue their Alberta trek with a game at Calgary on Friday.
On a team that features future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic and star winger Ryan Smyth, it’s Stastny that’s the runaway scoring leader early this season. Not that he cares. He repeatedly talked about the need to string together a few wins, not pad his individual totals.
“That’s the only thing I’m focused on,” he stressed.
It’s impossible not to think of his legendary father Peter Stastny when watching Paul Stastny play. The left-handed shot, the soft hands, the great vision, the ability to hold onto the puck and make plays in traffic. Oh, and he wears No. 26, same as his Hall of Fame father.
Dad also had some advice this off-season.
“He said, ‘Congratulations on last year, now forget about last year. It’s a new year. Every upcoming season is bigger than the one before.’ That’s what he was big on,” said the younger Stastny.
Just two Octobers ago, he was still at the University of Denver. He sometimes thinks about how drastically his life has changed.
“It’s quite a different experience. I should still be a senior right now in college,” he said with a laugh. “Obviously there’s pros and cons with everything. Sometimes I look back and see I still have my former classmates there as seniors right now.
“It’s kind of amazing how that much has changed in the past two years.”
Stastny took the league by surprise last season. He wasn’t among the more celebrated rookies when the 2006-07 season began but a monstrous second half deservedly rose his stock. He finished with 78 points (28-50) in 82 games and placed runner-up to slam-dunk Evgeni Malkin for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.
He wasn’t slighted in the least that he didn’t win it.
“No, I wasn’t disappointed at all,” said Stastny. “There were a lot of good rookies last year, a pretty deep class. I was honoured just to be mentioned in the voting.”
Stastny extended his season by playing in the IIHF World Hockey Championship in Moscow. The tricky part was deciding which country to play for before heading over. Born in Quebec City while his father starred for the Nordiques, he grew up mostly in St. Louis where his father played in later years.
And there’s the obvious Slovak heritage. His father is a national hero back home and was the GM of the Slovak team that captured the country first and only IIHF men’s title in 2002.
The U.S. made the most sense. It’s where he spent most of his life. He had four goals and four assists in seven games at the world championship. He sounded embarrassed when asked whether he sees himself lining up for the Americans at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
“I don’t know, that’s too far away,” he said. “Hopefully I can keep getting better when that comes up and we’ll deal with that then.”
Here’s betting he’ll be on the team.