The great Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully once said, “Statistics are used like a drunk uses a lamp post; for support, not illumination.”
He must have been thinking of Jordan Staal when he said this.
For a 21 year old, Staal’s stats look very good, but nothing earth-shattering.
2006-07- 29 G, 13 A
2007-08- 12 G, 16 A
2008-09- 22 G, 27 A
2009-10- 21 G, 28 A
Compare that to a guy taken 2 picks after Staal in 2006-07, Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals
2007-08- 14 G, 55 A
2008-09- 22 G, 66 A
2009-10- 33 G, 68 A
So if we went by statistics, it’s Backstrom by far. No contest. But we don’t, because as Scully implied, there is far more to it. Staal will likely never contend for the Rocket Richard trophy, like Backstrom and other players from that draft class probably will. His offensive abilities are significantly less than Malkin and Crosby. Those two comparisons, combined with the fact that he was a 2nd overall pick, make up the scope in which many people see Jordan Staal through.
However, when you look to see what a person really means to a team, you have to look at how the team plays without him. For his whole career, Penguin fans never had to see it. It took an errant skate by P.K. Subban to show us what Staal truly means to this team. He’s a guy who manages to wear down the opposition, and to frustrate them with his defense and backchecking. You’ll never, ever find the reasons that Staal is a great player by looking for his name in a box score.
You’ll find it in a cleared puck during a penalty kill.
You’ll find it driving the lane, clearing a shot path.
You’ll find it in the sticks that rest on the knees of those who have to play a shift against him.
Here’s a list of players that the Penguins could have drafted with the #2 overall pick in 2006:
Nicklas Backstrom, Jonathan Toews, Kyle Okposo, Phil Kessel, Claude Giroux, Peter Mueller, and so on. The Pens could have drafted any of them.
But they didn’t.
They drafted a Stanley Cup Champion instead.