Jordan Staal will take on his old Pittsburgh Penguins teammates for the first time since he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night when the two teams play at the PNC Center.
Staal said (via Penguins.com):
It's definitely something I'm looking forward to. When the calendar came out there's a few of the games where you look and see when you play each other first. I'm just excited about playing and competing against those guys, it's going to be a good matchup for us.
At the 2012 NHL Draft, the Hurricanes sent young forwards Brandon Sutter and Brian Doumilin, plus the No. 8 pick (Derrick Pouliot) in the 2012 draft to Pittsburgh in exchange for Staal. Through the first quarter of the season, it's safe to say that this trade has been a win for both teams.
It was unlikely that the Penguins could re-sign Staal and still have enough salary cap space to extend the contracts of other stars such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang over the next two seasons. Staal was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Trading him for young talent and/or draft picks was the best decision for the franchise at the time. When the Penguins decided to move Staal, the destination that made the most sense was Carolina.
Jordan's brother Eric is the captain of the Hurricanes and the face of the franchise. Playing with your brother in professional sports is something not a lot of siblings get the chance to do. When it became clear that a trade was a possibility for Staal, most fans expected him to go to Carolina. Shortly after being acquired by the Hurricanes, he signed a 10-year, $60 million contract extension.
Staal has settled in nicely with his new team this season, and he's already made a solid impact at both ends of the ice. He ranks second on the team with 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 18 games, and his 33 hits are the most among Hurricanes' forwards.
With Eric and Jordan playing the No. 1 and No. 2 center roles, respectively, Carolina has two forwards that can shut down opposing teams' best goal scorers—which is something the team didn't have last season.
He is also forming an impressive duo with young star Jeff Skinner, who is off to a better start this season (14 points in 13 games) compared to last year. Staal's playmaking ability is a major reason for Skinner's impressive performance in 2013.
Staal is only 24 years old, but he already has six seasons of NHL experience. Therefore, there's no question that he will continue to develop into a No. 1 center that the Hurricanes can build around for a decade.
In his short career with the Penguins, Sutter has excelled in Staal's third line center role and brings valuable scoring, toughness, faceoff ability and penalty killing to the lineup.
The 24-year-old forward has eight points (four goals, four assists) with a plus-six rating (third-best on the team) in 20 games this season. Sutter has also played well defensively with seven takeaways, 15 hits and 17 blocked shots (second on team among forwards).
As expected, Sutter isn't providing the Penguins with the type of scoring production that Staal did for many years, but he is giving head coach Dan Bylsma a reliable two-way center who is responsible in all three zones.
The two other players that were sent to the Penguins in this trade, Dumoulin and Pouliot, are both developing nicely and will likely have an opportunity to make the NHL roster for the 2013-14 season.
Dumoulin has scored 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in 52 games for the AHL's Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins this season, and Pouliot has tallied 38 points (eight goals, 30 assists) in 39 games for the WHL's Portland Winterhawks.
Pouliot could be the player that helps Pittsburgh win this trade in a few years because he has the potential to be a top-tier offensive defenseman in the NHL for a long time. His hockey IQ, passing ability, vision and shot from the point are all impressive.
In the NHL: It's rare that a trade works out very well for both teams, especially when a star player of Staal's caliber is involved.
It's still too early to give an official grade to the Hurricanes and Penguins for this trade because the players involved haven't even played one full season for their new teams yet, but both clubs are definitely benefiting from this deal.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.
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