Staal, other prospects play waiting game
BUFFALO – Whatever happens in Jordan Staal’s hockey career in the next 24 hours, the 18-year-old forward won’t be able to say the Penguins didn’t give him a long look at training camp.
The No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft played in both of the team’s final two preseason games this weekend, centering a line Saturday night with Colby Armstrong on the right and Ryan Stone on the left.
After a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres last night, the Penguins finished the preseason with a 2-2-3 record. Michel Ouellet and Ryan Malone scored goals to give the Penguins a lead, and they were ahead, 2-1, going into the third period. But Adam Mair scored from the side of the net to tie it, and Chris Drury got ahead of Malone to score on a long rebound for the game winner.
Staal did not have a point and finished the exhibition schedule with one assist in six games.
“I think they gave me a fair shot,” Staal said. “They definitely game me the opportunity to show my stuff. I hope I showed I can play here and hopefully they sign me and I get to play.”
Now comes the hard part — waiting.
Coaches and management will meet today to pare the roster down to the 23-man limit, with final decisions expected to be announced Monday. All teams must have their final rosters turned into the league by 3 p.m. Tuesday.
The Penguins have 27 healthy players right now, plus forward Ronald Petrovicky (hip) and defenseman Eric Cairns (knee), who will start the season on injured reserve, and Evgeni Malkin (dislocated shoulder).
Shero isn’t sure whether Malkin will go on injured reserve to start the year.
Among the most likely candidates to be cut are goaltender Dany Sabourin, defenseman Kristopher Letang and forwards Libor Pivko, Ryan Stone, Daniel Carcillo, Michel Ouellet and Staal.
Of those seven, Sabourin, Pivko and Ouellet would have to clear waivers. Neither Letang, 19, nor Staal, 18, has a contract yet, and neither is eligible to play for Wilkes-Barre this year based on age. Both would have to go back to their junior teams if they don’t stay in the NHL.
Staal knows that no matter what happens, it’s out of his control.
“It doesn’t really matter where I end up,” Staal said. “It’s really what the coaches think of me and where they think it’s best for me. If it’s back in Peterborough (Ontario), I’ll take it in stride and just keep playing hockey.”
One thing is clear, and that is the people making the roster decisions have taken a long look at Staal. The natural centerman has played in the middle and on the left wing, with a number of different linemates. He also was used on the power-play and penalty-killing units.
“I wanted to see how he reacted, and he reacted pretty good,” coach Michel Therrien said. “We tried to see where he could fit, and how he’s going to perform, and how he’ll stay focused at times when he doesn’t have that much ice time during a game. He was sharp.”
Staal was the only Penguins player to appear in six of the seven preseason games.
“I think I’ve just kept on improving,” Staal said. “I think overall it’s starting to slowly come together. I obviously need to go work on my speed, thinking quicker out there and really moving the puck faster. But it’s gotten better every game with the more confidence I get.”
Karen Price is a former freelancer.