The first round of the NHL Entry Draft had already seen a few ripples of trade excitement as it headed into the No. 8 pick – and then, the host Pittsburgh Penguins made an enormous splash. A 6-foot-4, 220-pound splash, to be exact, who was simultaneously occupied at his wedding in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
A day after Jordan Staal turned down the Penguins’ 10-year, $60 million offer to keep him in Pittsburgh, the team dealt him to the Carolina Hurricanes for a hefty return that included 23-year-old center Brandon Sutter, 20-year old defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin and Carolina’s first-round, No. 8 overall draft choice, which Pittsburgh used to select defenseman Derrick Pouliot of the Portland Winterhawks.
Penguins GM Ray Shero said his hand wasn’t forced by the inability to negotiate a contract extension with Staal, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer but is expected to sign with Carolina, where he’ll play with his eldest brother, Eric. The youngest of the four Staals, Jared, is also Hurricanes property.
“We were prepared to move forward with Jordan for next year and see what happened but, the more we thought about it, and the more teams that called, I just felt – and, as an organization, we felt – it was the right thing to do for Jordan,” Shero told TSN.
“He’s ready for an expanded role, he’s ready to expand his wings, and Carolina is certainly a great place for him and his new wife, Heather, so congratulations to them. That’s hopefully a good deal for him and he’s happy, but [it’s been] a wonderful six years here for Pittsburgh and Jordan Staal.”
The trade marked the end of the Penguins’ three-elite-center model, which figured to be difficult to sustain in the long-term for both salary cap reasons and the fact that Staal was destined to labor as a third-line center behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“I think it’s the reality of the salary cap, the reality of having three centers that are this good,” Shero said. “Especially with Jordan Staal – he’s [almost] 24 years old, he’s ready for a more expanded role and it’s time for him to go. [He was] my first ever draft pick here in Pittsburgh [at No. 2 overall in 2006], it’s tough, and a lot of respect for Jordan, a wonderful family, but it’s a good return for us.”
Critical to the deal was Sutter, who figures to slide into the No. 3 center role formerly filled by Staal.
“That was key” for the Penguins, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford told TSN, adding that the deal came together in Shero’s office about 15 minutes before the start of the draft. “We did not want to let him go. We love Brandon Sutter; he’s a great player, he’s got a great future ahead of him. But, when you’re making a deal like this for an elite player, you have to make a hockey deal, and you have to put certain pieces in.”
The Penguins also strengthened what’s becoming a formidable roster of defensive prospects in their system with Dumoulin, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound playmaker who won the national championship with Boston College earlier this year, and Pouliot, a talented skater who plays alongside Penguins prospect Joe Morrow in Portland. They also landed a potential steal with their own selection at No. 22, choosing defenseman Olli Maatta from the London Knights, a player ranked at No. 10.
“I’ve heard all good things from Joey. He really likes it here – the staff, the arena and everything – and I’m really excited to be a part of that,” said Pouliot, acknowledging that his connection to Morrow might have raised his profile with the Penguins. “He could’ve told them what I was capable of and, obviously, them coming to see him a lot could’ve helped a little bit.”
Pouliot said he models his style after Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty. “Maybe [also] Nick Lidstrom for his patience with the puck, and try to get that intensity and grittiness like Doughty has.”
The Penguins will appreciate that influx of grit into their system as one of their most resilient players over the past six years heads to Raleigh. Before announcing the selection of Pouliot, Shero thanked Staal for his time as a Penguin, earning a loud ovation from the fans at CONSOL Energy Center.
“[That’s] as it should be for Jordan Staal,” Shero said. “You make [him] a draft pick, you win a Stanley Cup with him, he’s forever going to be tied to Pittsburgh and the Penguins. He has his name on the Stanley Cup with us.
“But it’s a good day for Jordan, it really is. Obviously getting married today, that’s the best part and, hopefully, the next best part is going to play with his brother Eric in Carolina.”