Gritty center and penalty-killer, 21, had team's best plus-minus rating
April 21, 2010 4:00 AM
Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press
Selke Trophy finalist Jordan Staal -- "It says a lot about the way he plays.'
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
OTTAWA -- Jordan Staal's brother Eric beat him to the NHL by three years.
Eric Staal was the first one in the family to win a Stanley Cup, too.
But finally, the younger Staal has a chance to outdo his sibling, because he is the first of the brothers to be chosen as a finalist for the Selke Trophy, which goes to the NHL's top defensive forward.
"It's always nice to try to one-up your brother," Jordan Staal said.
Just being named a finalist is a major accomplishment, especially for a 21-year-old. The other two are Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, who won the Selke in each of the past two years, and Ryan Kesler of Vancouver.
"That's great company," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said.
Staal's linemates, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, agreed. Except they figure that it says a lot about Kesler and Datsyuk that they were able to earn a place alongside Staal.
"He's just as good, if not better, than those guys," Kennedy said.
The Selke, along with most other major NHL trophies and awards, will be presented June 23 in Las Vegas.
Staal put up a team- and career-best plus-minus rating of plus-19, despite often being matched against opponents' top offensive lines. He played in all 82 regular-season games, registering 21 goals and 28 assists. He also logged more short-handed ice time (274 minutes, eight seconds) than any NHL forward except Jay McClement of St. Louis.
"When you get that confidence of killing penalties late in games and playing against top lines, it becomes kind of a habit and something that he's pretty used to at this point," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said.
"He looks at it as a challenge. Not every player is able to have that responsibility every night. So it says a lot about the way he plays."
Coach Dan Bylsma said he has been struck by the way Staal has used his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame this season.
"He's always had a big stick," Bylsma said. "He's always been good positionally, but now he's going in and separating guys from the puck and skating away, and doing that on the penalty kill in those puck battles along the wall, getting pucks out."
Staal's line was intact for most of the season, the Penguins' only unit of which that could be said. And his linemates regard that as a reflection of the stability he brings to the middle of the group.
"He's one of the most reliable centermen in the league," Cooke said. "He makes the game easy for [Kennedy] and me to play."
Despite his reliable performance over the course of the regular season, Staal said he wasn't necessarily expecting to be a Selke finalist.
"Not really," he said. "I was pretty surprised when I heard, and pretty excited. I wasn't expecting anything. I'm obviously really proud of what I accomplished throughout the season."
This is the second NHL award for which Staal has been a finalist. He finished third in the rookie of the year balloting in 2007.