Jordan Staal’s life changed, in a big way, on June 22, 2012.
Staal was married in his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. On hand were many of his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates – soon to be former teammates.
Staal learned that day that he had been traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. His oldest brother, Eric, suddenly was one of his new teammates.
The trade also would have a ripple effect and an impact on others – Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin, Derrick Pouliot. And, later, Victor Rask.
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Jim Rutherford and Ray Shero were the architects of an eye-opening trade – Rutherford then the Canes’ general manager, Shero the Penguins’ GM in 2012 – made on the first day of the NHL Entry Draft at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center.
Traded to Pittsburgh were Sutter, a young center and fan favorite in Carolina, and Dumoulin, a defensive prospect, along with the Canes’ first-round pick in the 2012 draft.
When I came back last season, I had so much fire and was ready to go, then kind of hit a lull. I didn’t play terrible but I wasn’t maybe firing on all cylinders.
Canes center Jordan Staal
“It was probably in the works for four months,” Rutherford said Monday. “I was aware Ray wanted to re-sign (Staal), wanted to keep him, but about two hours before the draft Ray called, said he wouldn’t re-sign him and asked if we were still interested. He said he had talked to one other team and my understanding is it was the (New York) Rangers.
“We both understood the guidelines of the deal and talked for a few months about what each of us was willing to give up. It came together in a few hours.”
Jordan Staal is playing his best hockey since the trade. Rutherford is the Penguins’ general manager and Shero the GM of the New Jersey Devils.
Sutter was traded again by Rutherford, to the Vancouver Canucks. Dumoulin has been a regular in the lineup this season for the Penguins, who face the Canes on Tuesday at PNC Arena.
As for the 2012 draft pick, the Penguins made Pouliot the No. 8 selection. The defenseman played 34 NHL games last season but currently is with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the AHL.
Staal has a goal and assist in each of the past three games, scoring the overtime winner Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Knocking the puck past Brandon Saad along the right boards, he sped down the ice and blistered a shot past goalie Joonas Korpisalo.
But it’s about more than the points for Staal. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound center won 17 of 25 draws in the game. His line with wingers Joakim Nordstrom and Andrej Nestrasil again forechecked aggressively and were effective in the defensive zone.
“He’s been at a real high level,” Canes coach Bill Peters said Monday. “A dynamic guy. He has scored some big goals. Tough to play against. Plays against the best players in the league every game.”
Peters, like many hockey people, was surprised by the 2012 trade.
“Big pieces,” he said. “Any time there’s big names involved in trades it gets your attention.”
Rutherford and Staal soon agreed on a 10-year, $60 million contract extension. That’s a high-priced, long-term commitment, but Rutherford’s belief was that Staal, especially playing with his brother, could make the Canes a playoff contender.
“It was pretty cut and dried,” Rutherford said of the extension. “We knew what (Pittsburgh) had offered him. We were in position to make the same offer and felt while he turned it down in Pittsburgh, he wanted to play with his brother.”
Staal’s first season with the Canes was shortened by the NHL lockout. He played 82 games in 2013-14, but the offensive numbers – 15 goals and 25 assists – weren’t what the Canes were expecting when they made the trade.
A broken leg sidelined Staal the first 35 games last season, allowing Rask the opportunity to prove himself at center at the NHL level. Staal finished with six goals and 24 points in 46 games.
“When I came back last season, I had so much fire and was ready to go, then kind of hit a lull,” Staal said. “I didn’t play terrible but I wasn’t maybe firing on all cylinders. But it’s a different year and a little different scenario. I feel like my legs have been good, consistently, for a while now.”
Staal has 10 goals and 11 assists in 43 games for the Canes (18-18-7). He’s being used on the power play, on the penalty kill, on big draws.
“You can see the confidence making plays and with the puck is growing,” Eric Staal said. “His overall game has been really good.”
Jordan Staal said playing the Penguins remains a special game, even with the passing of time. The Penguins drafted him in 2006, and he helped the team lift the Stanley Cup in 2009 and still has good friends on the team.
Staal had a power-play goal Dec. 19 when the Canes topped the Penguins 2-1 in Pittsburgh. He gets another chance Tuesday.
“I want to consistently produce for this team, for us to win games,” he said.