For anyone catching up, a menu of previous player (and also coach and GM) report cards can be found at the bottom of the article.
Jordan Staal’s starting point for the 2016-17 season
In his third season with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2015-16, Jordan Staal had his best season wearing red, black and white. His season was nothing special out of the gate, but he was front and center when the team finally found the ignition switch in early December. Flanked by Joakim Nordstrom and Andrej Nestrasil, the line seemingly light on high-end talent and recognized names was the team’s best on many nights during a surge that lasted from early December through late February. Jordan Staal led the way collecting and winning loose pucks in the defensive zone and serving as a one-man break out that regularly carried the puck through the neutral zone and was able to make a play at the offensive blue line to keep possession entering the offensive zone. When the dust settled on the 2015-16 season, Staal had collected a respectable (second on the team) 48 points, reestablished himself as a shutdown center and staked a strong claim to being the Hurricanes’ most valuable player for the season.
Jordan Staal’s 2016-17 season with the Carolina Hurricanes
The 2016-17 season started with some uncertainty for Staal. After a serious back injury in late February of 2016, Andrej Nestrasil’s readiness to start the 2016-17 season was in question. Nestrasil ultimately made the opening night lineup but was unable to find the level he played at before his injury. Nordstrom also started slowly, and very shortly into the 2016-17 Coach Bill Peters was back to square one in terms of building a first or second line around Jordan Staal. The early-season line mate churn took some toll on Jordan Staal’s game. He was not horrible and his 9 points in 21 games to start the season was a little light but not way off target. But to those who watched him at his peak in 2015-16, he just was not at the same elite level in terms of controlling possession and driving the play into the offensive zone.
From there, Staal saw a rotation of line mates as the season progressed. In the first shuffle, Staal found a burst of scoring flanked by skilled Finnish forwards Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. An injury-interrupted second quarter of the season saw Staal net 3 goals and 5 assists in only 13 games played. And a stretch later in the season saw Staal regularly paired with Elias Lindholm who very clearly found a higher gear when challenged in a two-way role on Staal’s top defensive line. In evaluating Staal’s 2016-17 season, I think his subtle but significant contribution to Lindholm’s development must be noted. Largely playing with Lindholm, Staal surged during the winter months just like he had in 2015-16. He collected 15 points (5 goals and 10 assists) in 21 games during the third quarter of the season when the team in total was struggling. Staal finished with 3 goals and 9 assists in the final 20 games of the season and a total of 45 points in 75 games which was comparable to his 48 points in 82 games in 2015-16.
In total, Staal followed up his strong 2015-16 season with a similar performance in a similar role in 2016-17 though I think he took a small step down in terms of his dominance defensively.
Grading Jordan Staal
Graded as: An elite checking line forward and top 6 center capable of matching up and at least drawing even against anyone.
Grade: B+. Staal was good in 2016-17 but somewhat in the same vein as Jeff Skinner, I think one notch higher is possible. To be clear, scoring is NOT the primary measure of Staal’s effectiveness in his role, but especially with a bit more scoring talent on his wings in 2016-17 (and going forward), I would hope for more like mid-50s for scoring. In addition, while Staal was good in terms of driving the puck out of the defensive end and into the offensive end, I actually think he was slightly better in that regard in 2015-16. If Staal matches his 2016-17 in 2017-18, that will be a positive, but being a tough grader on the top players, I think a little bit more is possible.
Looking forward to 2017-18
At a basic level, Jordan Staal’s role in 2017-18 will be exactly the same. He will be expected to anchor the team’s top defensive line, match up against the other teams’ best scoring lines as much as possible and break even playing those tough minutes. As the Hurricanes become deeper and more skilled at the forward position, Staal will continue to see upgrades in terms of scoring potential on his wings. It is not reasonable to expect Staal to suddenly morph into an elite scoring forward, but as the talent around him increases, he must be capable of providing incrementally more offense as the team tries to move from the bottom third of the league in scoring up to the middle if not better.
What say you Canes fans?
Is a B+ too nit-picky for a top of the lineup player who fulfilled his role? Or do you agree that while Staal had a good year, it is fair to ask for slightly better?
To what degree do you think Jordan Staal’s modest scoring totals are a function of the Hurricanes’ lack of skilled depth at the forward position and the fact that Staal has historically been left to play with players who would be depth forwards on deeper teams?
If you could pair Jordan Staal with one forward to make two-thirds of a first or second line for 2017-18, who would it be and why?
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