Jordan Staal has 11 goals and 26 points in 43 games for the Penguins this season. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Since there are no taxi squads for the Olympic teams this time around – replacements for injured players can be added anytime between now and the start of the tournament – all we can do is speculate and debate about who Canada’s first call-up should/will be.
And now that Patrice Bergeron will return to Boston to be examined by the medical staff after taking a shot off his hand Monday night, instead of traveling with the team to Ottawa, it’s a topic worth discussing.
When I made my final Team Canada list the night before the announcement, I was surprised to discover the next day I had missed by one name. Like many, I didn’t include Bergeron, but instead chose Jordan Staal to act as the 13th forward or plug along on the fourth line.
I can’t say I was surprised he was left off, but if someone goes down, he’d be the first I’d add to the group.
Staal won’t bring the fiery offense Martin St-Louis or Steven Stamkos would; he won’t bring the goal-scoring Jeff Carter supposedly would; and he won’t bring bursts of intense speed to get on a puck like Mike Fisher. But what Staal does bring is a steady, reliable dose of all those components, plus an incredible defensive awareness that fits in perfectly with Canada’s team-building structure.
Though he hasn’t done it yet, Staal will be a Selke Trophy winner one of these days. At 21, he plays a sound defensive game usually reserved for veterans who have matured and incorporated that responsibility into their game over time. His reach and strength gives him a huge advantage in this category and he’s one of the best at turning, lifting the stick of an opponent headed the other way, stealing the puck and turning back on offense all in one fluid motion.
His 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame is an advantage he uses to protect the puck in the middle of the ice or along the boards; he has one of the best power moves in the NHL that allows him to fend off big-bodied defensemen such as Braydon Coburn or the most experienced and wise defenders such as Brian Rafalski. (That second clip was a key shorthanded marker in Game 4 of last year’s Cup final that tied the game midway through the second period.)
And though he wouldn’t be a scorer – and wouldn’t have to be – his tenacity on the forecheck (another form of defense) forces turnovers and leads to goals, like this one.
Not to mention he’s played in the past two Stanley Cup finals, where his defense shone and his offense came through in the clutch.
Staal brings a responsible all-around game that doesn’t always jump off the screen, while most of the other bubble players are lacking in at least one area, though their offensive totals are better and their flair much more evident.
So who better to have as the 13th man? Say the San Jose line trips out of the gate, wouldn’t it be great to insert another scorer on that line (maybe brother Eric?) and throw Jordan onto the checking line?
And as important as chemistry and familiarity turned out to be in selecting this team, imagine Eric and Jordan playing on the same line? Amazing.
Just as it is with all the players on Team Canada, you can argue in favor of a bunch of bubble players to be the first call-up, but you’ll have a hard time arguing against all of the others.
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