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Staal ready for next level

Penguins/NHL Videos

Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008

Jordan Staal is on a power play for Ryan Malone's old gig.

"If I'm playing well, there's no question that I think I should be on the power play," Staal said Tuesday after the Penguins were examined at UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.

"I can be that kind of player."

Staal could spend much of training camp -- opening practice is slated for 9 a.m. today at Mellon Arena -- doing his best impersonation of Malone, who last season thrived as left wing on a line centered by Evgeni Malkin and in front of the net on the top power-play unit.

Coach Michel Therrien said Staal "has the potential" to make up for the loss of Malone, who signed as a free agent with Tampa Bay over the summer.

"We've got to find a guy to replace Malone," Therrien said. "You look at our lineup ... (Staal) has the experience to play on the left side and the size and skill to play up front on the power play, so it's something we might try during camp to see how he fits."

Those words do not guarantee Staal anything -- "I'm never afraid to make changes if I have to, as (everybody) probably knows by now," Therrien said -- but they do put Staal's opportunity into perspective.

Staal, an impending restricted free agent, said he will "play wherever" in the final season of his entry-level contract. But his focus is clearly set on filling the role left vacated by Malone.

He also is ready to put a second NHL season he previously labeled "disappointing" in his past.

Staal turned 20 last Wednesday, and that number carries a lot of significance. He plans to return to the class of 20-goal scorers and hopes for about that much average ice time.

He scored only 12 times last season -- a 17-goal drop from his surprising offensive output as a rookie the year before, when he played mostly left wing on a line centered by Malkin.

Staal upped his production in the playoffs, with six goals in 20 games, but had no points, six shots and a minus-6 rating in the Stanley Cup final.

Staal has described his chemistry with Malkin as "pretty natural" and would not mind again sharing five-on-five shifts with his fellow 2007 Calder Trophy finalist.

That is not news to anybody within the organization. Staal said last season he does not envision himself as a "third-line guy."

Third gear
Though praised by coaches last season for his performance as a No. 3 center, forward Jordan Staal eyes third-year production along the lines of his standout rookie season in 2006-07. A comparative look at his first two NHL regular seasons:
Season Goals Assists Points Shooting percentage +/-
2006-07 29 13 42 22.1 16
2007-08 12 16 28 6.6 -5
Source: NHL

Neither does Therrien. But barring injury, Staal will not replace superstar centers Malkin or Sidney Crosby on the top scoring lines, and Therrien has often praised Staal's defensive work as a penalty killer and last season, a so-called shutdown No. 3 center.

"He's very versatile, so it's a nice problem to have," Therrien said. "I want to keep my options open with Jordan. But if he plays on the top two lines, it will because he has shown he can score goals there and because of his defense."

The Penguins learned first hand in the Stanley Cup final that a scoring line consisting of two natural centers can pay dividends. Detroit's top line is anchored by centers Henrik Zetterberg, the playoff MVP an co-scoring leader, and Pavel Datsyuk, the league's top two-way forward.

"They played so well together," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I don't know if it was because they were both centers. But both those guys can play anywhere... it was tough to play against.

"It's an obvious advantage they have. It's an advantage we could have."




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