So far, Paul Stastny has been a pretty fantastic fit for the Winnipeg Jets.
Through four games, there are certain signs of “new car smell” that will wear off. The playmaker isn’t likely to maintain a 28.6 shooting percentage, and his giant possession stats should settle down to “very good.”
Still, it’s that mixture of little things and bigger elements, like all-around play and clever passing, that help Stastny make an already-imposing Jets forward group downright scary. Patrik Laine told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen that it’s all about that “extra half-second” that Stastny opens up for snipers, but head coach Paul Maurice really provides the fun comparison.
“He does so many of the things Ronnie Francis would do,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said, referencing the Hall of Fame center he coached for six seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes. “He has such a great understanding of what’s going on on the ice, the adjustments the other teams are making and what’s happening around him.”
Rosen notes in the quote above that Maurice coached Francis for six seasons in Carolina, but amusingly enough, he might want to evoke “Ronnie Franchise” from his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
- When Francis was traded to the Penguins, they’d missed the playoffs in seven of their previous eight seasons. Pittsburgh went on to win their first Stanley Cup with key contributions from Francis.
- As of this writing, the Jets/Thrashers have never won a playoff game, let alone a playoff series. Yet, when you look up and down that lineup, it’s a nightmare for defenses. The Blake Wheeler — Mark Scheifele — Roving Lucky Winger (currently Kyle Connor) combo is now supplemented by Stastny, Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers, and Mathieu Perreault helps to round out a murderer’s row lineup.
- Both players are all-around, “cerebral” players who happen to be gifted playmakers.
- In each case, you’re getting quality players with plenty of motivation, who might also benefit from not being, “the guy.” (Or “The Franchise.”)
So far, Stastny is averaging 16:11 TOI per game in four contests with the Jets after falling between 18:30 and 19 minutes per night in recent times with the St. Louis Blues. As a pending UFA and competitor, maybe Stastny would prefer more minutes and heavier usage. Perhaps that will come with time, or failing that, injuries.
Then again, maybe this is the ideal scenario for a player who’s often been judged as much by healthy paychecks as he has been by steady play. As the Athletic’s Craig Custance noted upon word of the Stastny trade on Feb. 28 (sub required), he might finally be falling in the optimum spot in a lineup.
“Paul is a really good third-line center,” texted one NHL head coach after the deal. “Best position for him.”
All due respect to Bryan Little‘s useful, defensive-minded line, but even now, it seems silly to consider Stastny’s trio with Laine and Ehlers a “third line.” Still, Stastny and his young wingers can be deployed strategically, leveraging situations as to make things downright uncomfortable for opponents.
Chances are, there will be a taker for Stastny, 32, who will probably pay him at such a rate that he’ll be asked to do more than be a very, very nice complimentary player in Winnipeg. That might really complete the parallel to Francis, who was an overwhelming piece on loaded Penguins teams and a top player on Whalers/Hurricanes squads that struggled.
(Granted, it’s fair to consider Stastny a “poor man’s Francis,” which again … is far from a bad thing.)
Going back to being a big fish in a medium-sized pond isn’t such a bad thing, although much like Francis, Stastny might enjoy this run enough to decide to stick with a contender at a more moderate rate. His lifetime earnings make you think he could afford such a move, if nothing else.
If not, this one run could be a fun peek at that alternate route.