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Jordan Staal: A tale of two perspectives

Ask several fans about how Jordan Staal's debut season with the Carolina Hurricanes and you'll probably get a wide range of answers. Although, most were underwhelmed with what he brought to the team and were expecting him to be more of a difference maker. Jordan's 10 goals and 31 points over 48 games aren't terrible for a second line center, but many were expecting more from Staal after how much the Hurricanes gave up for him at the 2012 draft.

Jordan's had a reputation of being someone with a lot of untapped potential because of the role he played in Pittsburgh and while I think he is capable of producing more offense, I'm not sure if he is the star player that everyone hoped he would be. That said, Staal is capable of being a difference maker but he does it in ways that don't show up on the scoresheet. There were a lot of games last season where I thought Jordan was the team's best forward and he didn't record a point in a few of them.

While Staal has always been a solid point-producer relative to his ice time, a lot of his value comes from his all-around game, which is what we saw last season. Jordan's line typically drew most of the tough matchups last season, freeing up Eric's line to play against easier assignments at home and we all know how that turned out. This is similar to the role that Brandon Sutter played before, but the difference between the two players is that Staal is capable of beating other team's top lines instead of just simply holding them in check. Meaning that he can keep them pinned into their own zone and produce offense against them.

His scoring line and plus-minus suggests that he wasn't doing that, but a deeper look at his performance tells another story. Jordan was one of the team's best forwards at winning the territorial battle at even strength, meaning that he was always forcing other teams to defend whenever he was on the ice. If he can continue to that next year, he should have better numbers and be worth his $6 mil. cap hit. Players like him only come around so often.

The question is, how much offense can Staal produce in a given year if he plays top-six minutes? We'll set some expectations for him after the jump.

Even Strength Production

Jordan has scored at a top-six rate in five of the last six seasons and has produced at a first line rate in three of those years. So while he may not be the offensive star that some hoped he would be, he is definitely capable of being a difference maker if he is given the minutes. Last year was a "down season" by his standards, as both his goal and assist rates were down from his career averages. Given how good he is at controlling the play, Staal should see both of these improve this season and his numbers will be closer to where they were in 2011-12.

  5v5 TOI Shots/60 Shooting% SF/60 Team Sh% Assist%
2007-08 1039.25 N/A N/A 26.91 7.01 33.3%
2008-09 1082.78 6.54 16.9% 31.52 9.92 36.7%
2009-10 1109.68 8.00 11.5% 32.43 9.35 35.7%
2010-11 620.23 6.00 11.3% 29.51 9.51 34.5%
2011-12 913.27 7.42 13.3% 35.19 8.79 40.4%
2012-13 722.53 7.47 10.0% 36.27 7.09 32.3%

Both Staal's personal and team shooting percentages were lower than his career averages, so that indicates that poor luck may have played a role in his scoring woes last season. Although, it is worth noting that Staal doesn't shoot the puck that much, so his shooting percentage increasing could only result in a couple more goals if anything. He was also on the ice for a high number of shots at even strength, which could explain why his on-ice shooting percentage has gone down a bit over the last two seasons.

That being said, Staal is still capable of producing a lot of offense and should have better numbers if his shooting percentages regress toward his career average. How much ice time he gets will also play a role in this because last year was the first time he played over 15 minutes at even strength per 60 minutes and I think he will be above that benchmark again. Muller seemed to use him more than Eric in back-to-back games to not lean on the first line that much. 

Power Play Production

Jordan's results on the power play have been pretty random throughout his entire career and last year was a good season for him in every category except goals. Keep in mind that he typically is used on the second power play unit and doesn't play a ton of minutes unless the team is really desperate for offense. So six assists ended up being pretty good or him relative to his usage. Power play results are unpredictable in a sense, but I think Staal will see more PPGs next year while his assist rate will go down.

  5v4 TOI PP Shots/60 PP Shooting% PP SF/60 PP Team Sh% Assist%
2007-08 122.95 N/A N/A 45.89 9.57 44.4%
2008-09 176.17 8.17 8.3% 40.57 11.76 28.6%
2009-10 150.67 9.56 4.2% 50.98 7.81 20.0%
2010-11 128.68 6.53 14.3% 40.06 11.63 30.0%
2011-12 121.43 8.40 23.5% 41.95 9.41 25.0%
2012-13 107.18 9.52 5.9% 42.5 12.99 50.0%

Like I said before, Staal's results on the power play are pretty random and this is especially true when it comes to his shooting percentage. He is shooting the puck more than he did in the past, but it ended up making not much of a difference because he converted on only 5.9% of the shots he took. Will that continue next year? I'm inclined to say no, but Jordan's shooting percentage tends to bounce all over the place. This is also true for his on-ice shooting percentage and it appears that he is due for a setback there. His low shots per 60 minute totals at even strength confirm this, although they have improved in the last two seasons. Staal still scores a lot of goals relative to his ice time because of where he shoots the puck from and how he crashes for rebounds, so he should have a good year, but there is potential for him to do more.

Projection

What do we get after taking all of these factors into consideration? Well, one thing we can say is that Staal has been a pretty solid point-producer both at even strength and on the power play even with his shooting percentage bouncing all over the place. If he can get 15-16 minutes of ice time at even strength and have some more bounces go his way, then he could have the "breakout" year many are hoping for. However, the chances of both of those happening in the same year seem kind of low. Staal getting that kind of ice time being a big road block.

He played over 15 minutes per game at even strength for the first time in his career last season, but he is still just the #2 center on this team when Eric is healthy and brining in Elias LIndholm could impact his ice time too depending on how well he plays. That said, Jordan will probably get big minutes, but more of around 14-15 per game at even strength because I can not see him topping Eric any time soon. Although there might be some games where he gets more ice time because he is playing well and the first line needs a breather.

Another thing that will stand in the way of Jordan having this "breakout" season is that he doesn't shoot the puck enough, and it's infuriating to watch at times. Jordan has plenty of goal-scoring talent and has a knack for going to the prime areas but far too often, he will pass to an open teammate instead of pulling the trigger himself.

Right now, I have him projected for 7.4 shots per 60 minutes at even strength, which would give him roughly 153-154 in a full season. That would give Jordan 19-22 goals depending on what his shooting percentage is. I'm fairly confident that he won't get as unlucky as he did last year, so I think he will end up closer to 20 by the end of the season. I'm also taking into consideration that he could be on a line with Jeff Skinner, who shoots every single chance he gets, and could have more scoring opportunities from rebounds.

One thing that is certain is that Staal will likely be on the ice for a high volume of shots at even strength, which is usually the case with forwards who are great at controlling play in the offensive zone. Unlike his brother, Jordan hasn't shown much of an ability to raise the shooting percentage of his linemates but he could still be on the ice for a lot of goals due to how many shots the team generates when he is out there. He typically records an assist on 33-37% of the goals he is on the ice for, so that would give him 20-23 assists at even strength if the Hurricaens register at least 34 even strength shots on goal when he is on the ice.

In short, I'm expecting a pretty great year from Jordan at even strength, as he should see his numbers return closer to what they were in Pittsburgh. His power play numbers could stay stagnant, though. Jordan typically doesn't play a lot of minutes with the man advantage and he hasn't shown the ability to produce much offense there either. Therefore, I'm going to be a little conservative here and say that he has only 22-24 shots power play shots on goal with a little over two minutes of power play time per game. This would give him 2-3 goals if he shoots at his career average, but much fewer if he shoots like last year. Earlier I said that Staal will have more power play goals, but keep in mind that he had one total last year so it's kind of hard to do worse than that.

As for his assist total, Staal typically isn't on the ice for a lot of power play shots, so this limits the amount of helpers he can factor into. I currently have him projected to be on the ice for about 42 power play shots per 60 minutes (six-year average), which would put him on the ice for 11-16 goals depending on what his on-ice shooting percentage is. Based on his career numbers, he could have 3-7 assists with 3-5 being the more plausible outcome.

So adding all of this up, I have Jordan projected to have a 48-56 point season, which isn't counting his short-handed production. I think playing a full year with Skinner & Ruutu will help him a lot and he should get more opportunities to score based on how much offense those two can create. These numbers might not scream "breakout season," but a 50-point year out of Staal is fine when you take everything else he does into consideration.

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