Penguins Notebook: Staal, Letang await word on their future
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Jordan Staal's first ride through the NHL might have only one more week to go.
Or maybe not.
The Penguins' 18-year-old rookie center, the second overall pick in the June draft, can be sent back to junior hockey before he plays in his 10th NHL game without his 2006-07 contract counting toward future free agency. The team's ninth game is Saturday at Philadelphia.
Rookie defenseman Kris Letang is in the same situation.
There is growing sentiment that Staal has played well enough to remain in the NHL the rest of the season. He had one goal before last night's game against Columbus and has shown a knack for playing well defensively. If he and/or Letang are returned to the juniors, they can not be recalled to the NHL or assigned to the minor leagues until their junior season ends.
Although USA Today reported last week that the Penguins were leaning toward keeping Staal, general manager Ray Shero yesterday said there is no decision yet.
"In my own mind, I know what I want to do, but everything here is not a unilateral decision," Shero said. "We haven't talked too much about it. Over the next week or 10 days, we'll get together as a group. All I said to the staff, on both players, was I don't want to be sitting there after the Philadelphia game saying, 'Should we keep them or not?' I want to know."
Coach Michel Therrien was equally evasive.
"We'll make a decision at the right time," he said. "We all understand he's getting better and better."
Staal is asked about the situation often, but he knows that only means he's doing what he can to make the decision more difficult.
"I don't mind the questions," he said. "I'm getting more comfortable out there. The more I play, the more confident I'm getting. It's just a matter of whether I've shown I can play here or not. It's their decision."
Staal also realizes it might not be based solely on his performance.
If he plays more than nine NHL games this season, he and Russian rookie Evgeni Malkin will become restricted free agents the same summer, 2009, one year after second-year player Sidney Crosby. That could make it difficult for the Penguins to match qualifying offers and remain under the salary cap.
"We're a hockey team," Shero said. "I'd like to make hockey decisions first and foremost. But we all know that there's a business side to the game. Everything's got to be manageable. But I've thought about all that stuff in a three- or four-year plan. It's the way it is."
Malkin's family was at the game last night at Mellon Arena.
Malkin hadn't seen his mother, Natalia, father, Vladimir, and older brother, Denis, since he slipped away from his Russian Super League team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk , Aug. 12 in the Helsinki, Finland, airport.
Malkin's family tried to get to Pittsburgh for his NHL debut Wednesday but could not get visas in time.
No break a good break
A CT scan showed no breaks in Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney's foot, and he was cleared to play. He missed practice Friday after a blocked shot left him with a bad bruise, but he returned to the morning skate yesterday.
The start was Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's career-high seventh in a row, meaning he has started every game this season. ... The home game Tuesday against New Jersey will start at 7:08 p.m., half an hour earlier than normal, because it is being televised nationally on Versus (formerly OLN). ... The Penguins scratched forwards Karl Stewart and Chris Thornburn. Winger Andre Roy was in the lineup for the first time since Game Two.
First Published October 22, 2006 12:00 am