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This article was published 1/5/2018 (1105 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Winnipeg Jets are getting everything they’d hoped for and more out of Paul Stastny, and the veteran centre is quick to point out the feeling is mutual.
Since joining the team two months ago following a trade from the St. Louis Blues, Stastny is proving to be a crucial piece as the Jets settle into what they see as a long NHL playoff run.
Speaking Tuesday morning, well before he put up three points in Game 3, Stastny said he’s having a ball playing for the third team of his 12-year career, noting the situation has unfolded exactly how he’d imagined it might when he waived his full no-trade clause in late February to move to another Central Division squad.
"That’s why I did it. There’s only certain teams you have that kind of vision for," he said prior to Game 3 of the Jets’ second-round playoff series with the Nashville Predators. "Nothing’s guaranteed, but you look at the team, you look at the community and how excited they are and you kind of had a feeling this was going happen, or at least it had the potential to be like this. That was obviously one of the factors you had in the back of your mind."
The team’s Stanley Cup potential and its rabid fan base are living up to the hype, he said.
"Yeah, it’s been good, everything I envisioned and more and it keeps getting more exciting, keeps getting harder and keeps getting more fun, so I’d sign up for that any day," he said.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff caught the hockey world by surprise by pulling off the trade-deadline acquisition, surrendering a first-round pick in this year’s draft and prospect Erik Foley. Stastny immediately bolstered the team’s already-solid core up the middle.
At the time, Mark Scheifele was firmly entrenched on the top line with Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor, while Bryan Little was playing with Mathieu Perreault and Jack Roslovic. That left Andrew Copp to carry an unusual third line with talented young wingers Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers.
After the trade, Stastny became the obvious fit between Laine and Ehlers, while Copp returned to a more comfortable checking role, with Adam Lowry still injured.
The payoff was instantaneous. Stastny scored four goals and set up nine others in 19 games to close out the regular season.
Yet, just as essential was the 55 games of playoff experience that he brought with him, and the manner in which he conducts himself as a pro, both on and off the ice. Stastny is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, so his employment with the Jets might be brief. However, his coach and teammates maintain his impact is significant.
"He’s just an incredibly consistent professional, everything you’d want in a centreman, especially in a tough (playoff) series," Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler said. "There’s no ins and outs of his game; he plays extremely hard and does a lot of little things that go unnoticed and aren’t really taught to young players any more.
"He creates a lot of space for (Ehlers) and (Laine). He’s been incredibly impactful in our room and on the ice, kind of an element we didn’t really have before. He’s been outstanding."
Stastny has scored three goals and added six assists through the five-game series victory over the Minnesota Wild and the first three games against Nashville. He’s averaging nearly 18 minutes of ice time a night, including his shifty work as a playmaker on the power play.
The 32-year-old son of Hockey Hall-of-Famer Peter Stastny also is comfortable in the faceoff circle and has won some big draws for the team in both the offensive and defensive zones in the post-season.
Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice said Stastny’s value to the team can be measured two ways.
"The on-ice (play), the stats are there for you. He has a real strong vision on the ice. He’s playing with two young players who are dynamic but completely different in style of game.
"What he has is the ability to read off them very well so they’re consistent in the game they play but there’s a lot of creativity to the game they play. He’s a centreman that picks up on that," Maurice said.
"Just as important... you bring a veteran guy into your room and it’s a hockey guy. Paul’s a guy who when you walk by him in the hallway or you go grab a coffee in the lounge, he’s talking hockey non-stop. It’s good to have a veteran guy like that in your room that’s wired to the game, loves being around the game and it rubs off because he’s talking to different guys all the time. He brings more of a hockey mindset into your room and he has the respect of the players who listen."
Ehlers said while he and Laine frequently pick Stastny’s brain, they pick up more just by watching their centre and his work habits.
Consistency has been the knock against the dynamic Ehlers, a 29-goal scorer during the regular season who has yet to score in the post-season. But he said the former Colorado Avalanche star has him learning to make every shift count.
"It’s been great for two young guys like me and Patty, getting to play with an experienced hockey player, a great hockey player, who reads the game very well, plays the game well every single shift," Ehlers said.
"To me, from what I’ve seen, he never has a bad night. He either has really good or good games. For me, as a young player... you want to get to that level where you play consistently good games, or sometimes have a great game, or try and play as many great games in a row that you can. He’s found a way to do that and is someone we can learn from."
Stastny said it’s been a treat to skate between two rising stars and he’s happy to pass on some of the hockey know-how he’s picked up over the years.
"It’s been fun. They both bring different elements to the game and we kind of mesh well together. Obviously, you have one guy (Ehlers) with a lot of speed who’s not afraid to make plays, and you have another guy (Laine) who also isn’t afraid to make plays and has the potential to score from anywhere," he said.
"For me, I’m always trying to find both those guys. I know they want the puck at all times; both of those guys have great shots and are creating chances every time they get it."
Hockey fans won’t see the elder Stastny — considered by many as the greatest NHL player of the 1980s not named Wayne Gretzky — in the Manitoba capital during the height of the playoffs.
Paul said his legendary Slovakian-born dad, who accumulated 450 goals and 1,239 points over 15 seasons, including 10 with the Quebec Nordiques, is still a hockey junkie but prefers the comforts of his man-cave these days over a raucous arena.
"My dad has experienced this before and he knows what it’s like," he said, grinning.
"My dad being a hockey fan, he’d rather watch at home because in the intermissions he can watch another game. The more hockey he can watch, the better.
"He’s always been like me — he’d rather watch it at home where he can focus. He doesn’t like talking to people during the games because he’s so focused on the game. If there’s a 30-minute stagger between games, he’s going to be watching the other game."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).