It might be a little presumptuous to include a 22 year-old kid on a list of the top players in a team's history, especially if that team has been around longer than a couple of seasons. But sometimes a kid comes along who has so much talent, class and ability that he's already surpassed players ten years his senior. Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Anze Kopitar are such kids. So is Paul Stastny.
Paul Stastny, the son of Quebec Nordiques Hall of Fame scoring ace Peter Stastny, has a big legacy to fulfill. So far, so good. With his superb rookie season and his injury-shortened but more impressive sophomore season having set him apart from his Western Conference peers, "Son of Stastny" is a shoo-in to join the Top 19 Avalanche Players Of All Time.
Most NHL players spend a lot of time in the junior and minor leagues before reaching the top tier of their sport. Three or four years in junior or collegiate hockey is usually followed by a season or two in the AHL or ECHL. For Paul Stastny, the road to the big league has been much shorter. Not as short as that of Sidney Crosby, perhaps, but short nonetheless.
Stastny began his junior career in 2002-03 with the River City Lancers of the USHL, scoring 30 points in 57 games at the age of 17. During the 2003-04 season, at the age of 18, Stastny scored 77 points in 56 games, good enough for second place in the league.
Despite his strong performance, and a solid ranking among scouts prior to the 2004 NHL Draft, Stastny opted out and instead chose to attend college at the University of Denver. Still 18, he scored 45 points in 42 games and helped lead the team to the NCAA ice hockey championship title over the Fighting Sioux of the University of North Dakota in 2004-05. His impressive play won him the WCHA Rookie Of The Year award, too.
Stastny then entered the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and was chosen in the second round, 44th overall, by the Colorado Avalanche---the same franchise for which his father Peter and uncles Anton and Marian played during the 1980s when it was still called the Quebec Nordiques.
Paul played one more year at the University of Denver, following his incredible rookie performance with an even better 53 points in 39 games. Unfortunately, the team wasn't as successful in the post-season, losing in the first round of the playoffs to Minnesota-Duluth.
Prior to the 2006-07 NHL season, Stastny attended Avalanche training camp. Though few expected him to make the Avalanche lineup at the age of 20 and with no minor league experience, the combination of a strong showing in camp and the career-ending heart trouble of Steve Konowalchuk gave Stastny his chance. He didn't let anyone down.
In his third game of the 2006-07 season, Paul Stastny scored his first point, assisting on a goal by fellow rookie Wojtek Wolski. Then, five games later, he scored his first goal. By February he had surpassed Alex Tanguay's record for Avalanche rookies of 51 points in a season, and on March 17th, 2007, he scored in his 20th consecutive game, a record for Avalanche, franchise and NHL rookies. He finished the year with 78 points in 82 games, including 28 goals.
Unfortunately, this incredible rookie showing wasn't good enough for the Calder Trophy. Son of Stastny finished second in votes to Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin.
In 2007-08, Stastny didn't have to compete very hard in training camp to ensure his spot as the second line center for the Avalanche, but he did anyway, and was one of the best players on the team during the pre-season. This momentum carried right into the regular season. In the very first game of the year, Stastny scored a hat trick. In game three against the San Jose Sharks, Paul scored five points (1 goal, 4 assists). By this time his eight points in three games had him on pace to finish the season with 219 points and a chance to surpass the record set by Wayne Gretzky. Of course, keeping up that pace was impossible, but Stastny had everyone dreaming for at least a few games.
Stastny did slow down, and suffered both a scoring drought and a long layoff due to appendicitis and a groin pull, but he still led the Avalanche in scoring with 71 points (in just 66 games) by the end of the year. His 1.08 points-per-game percentage was a 13 point improvement over his rookie season.
His first playoff experience was frustrating, though. Having missed the post-season in 2006-07 by just one point, he got his first chance at the Stanley Cup in 2007-08. Despite strong overall play, Paul struggled to score points, and finished the first series against the Minnesota Wild with just one point (a goal) in six games. Though he began the second round against the Detroit Red Wings with a strong 2-point effort, he failed to score in the next two games and missed the fourth with another injury. The Avs were swept in that series.
Paul Stastny isn't flashy. He plays with old skates and a wooden stick as a tribute to his father and the way he grew up playing hockey. He has a boyish, toothless smile. On the ice he's not particularly fast or dynamic, but relies on perfect positioning and never gets caught with his head down. When he scores a goal, he simply raises his stick with his left hand and doesn't showboat like Ovechkin or Malkin. He's calm, cool and always plays his hardest at all times. He's as good on defense as he is on offense, too, and plays extended minutes on both the power play and the penalty kill. He's as close as you can get to a complete player at the age of 22.
If the Avalanche front office still has any intelligence whatsoever, they will go out of their way to make Paul Stastny the new face of the franchise once Joe Sakic retires. With any luck, Son of Stastny will begin and end his long career in Colorado. And it's pretty much guaranteed that he'll move much higher up the list of Top 19 Avalanche Players Of All Time in a very short amount of time.
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