On Tuesday, Winnipeg Jets’ forward Paul Stastny will suit up in his 1,000th career NHL contest as his Jets host the Vancouver Canucks for the second-straight game from Bell MTS Place.
Unlike other years where silver sticks are awarded to players who have served 1,000 career games, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced many limitation as to allowances of pre-game ceremonies – at least in Canada.
But truth be told, everyone within Winnipeg that follows the Jets in even the subtlest of manners knows of Stastny’s big day. Starting with his teammates, coaches and rivals, the 35-year-old will certainly enjoy the milestone on Tuesday evening.
“It’s just an honour to be able to play the game this long, and to keep having fun and enjoy it,” Stastny said on Tuesday afternoon. “Call it a job, but from four or five years old to me it’s always been what I love to do, and I still love to do it. So the love’s still in the game and that’s the most important thing for me. I enjoy it, may family enjoys it. So if they’re happy, I’m happy, then we’re all happy, so that makes it a little easier.”
Breaking into the league with the Colorado Avalanche in 2006, Stastny began his career with 28 goals and 78 points in a full 82-game season – his first of eight in Denver.
“When I came into the league, it was a completely different game,” Stastny reflected. “Learning on the go from different guys. In my first year, watching guys like Laperriere, Hejduk, Brunette, Sakic and Foote and the way they took care of themselves. I kind of laughed it off, but you realize five, 10, 15 years later that there was a reason those guys all had such long and storied careers. Because they took care of themselves. You learn from those guys… I’ve been fortunate to be around good people to learn from and I’ve been fortunate to have a supporting family, with my parents and my sisters and with my wife and kids, they let me do it and they kind of make it as easy as possible for me.”
Stastny then moved to St. Louis by way of four-year contract as a free agent with the Blues. He was then dealt to Winnipeg in preparation for the team’s storied 2018 playoff run, before signing for three years in Vegas. But once again, Winnipeg swooped in and intervened, picking up the veteran centreman by way of a trade that actually required Stastny to waive his no-movement-clause.
“Just being here that short amount of time (in 2018), thinking when you do waive that no-trade clause it’s going to be potentially two, three months and that’s it,” Stastny laughed. “You’ll just be on the ice, you don’t know if your family’s going to be there, maybe they’ll come out for playoffs. But we went all-in together. They came up right away. What was three months felt like three years, we enjoyed it so much. It just speaks a volume to the city of Winnipeg, the people of Winnipeg, the organization, the players, how welcoming everyone is, and how tight-knit of a community it is around here.”
Clearly enjoying his time with the Jets, Stastny’s current teammates have also reaped the benefits of the intellectually advanced forward.
“He’s had a pretty amazing career,” Mark Scheifele said. “He’s a big part of this team, so it’s definitely a huge thing for him and we’re happy for him and excited to be a part of it. He does all the right things. He knows the spots to go; he’s such an intelligent hockey player, he’s knows the spots to go to, he knows the areas to be. Faceoffs, everything, he’s just a very, very intelligent hockey player and he means so much to this team. You can plug him in anywhere and he’s going to succeed and make things happen. That’s a very valuable guy to have on your team.”
Another valuable Jets forward, Kyle Connor, also didn’t shy away when speaking of the importance and value that Stastny brings to the table on the daily.
“He’s such a great person and very easy to talk to,” Connor said on Monday. “He speaks on all subjects. Just such a great teammate, knows the game well, hockey sense is off the charts. On the ice, he almost plays that same way. He’s a great passer, so smart, always in the right spots. It’s going to be pretty cool to be a part of that game for him tomorrow.”
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Not to be outdone, head coach Paul Maurice spoke at length on Stastny’s ability to serve as somewhat of a player-coach within the dressing room, on the bench and out on the ice.
“He’s a phenomenal resource because he can articulate the game. He can recall plays. That number, 1000, you’ve seen an awful lot of things in the league – different systems that were run, different plays that were run. He’s great to talk to. What he’s got is a really good general feel of what’s going on, besides specific plays…There aren’t a lot of guys that are really good offensive players that are really good defensive players as well. There might even be fewer and fewer of those guys. Some of these guys coming in now are pure offensive guys and haven’t spent time valuing the other side of the puck. Paul is a throwback in his style of play.”
Clearly having earned both the trust and friendship of his teammates and coaching staff, the veteran forward will enter an NHL game for the 1,000th time on Tuesday evening. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions in place in Manitoba, his family and supporters will not be present. Although it will be a storyline, Stastny’s biggest focus is “getting the win”.
“I wish they were here,” he said of his family. “They had as big a role as anyone to me getting here, but I know they’ll be watching and I’ve already talked to a bunch of them. But at the same time, I don’t like having a big party celebrating myself, so that’s kind of nice to be low key about it. My family is going to be here, my wife and kids are finding a way to get here and that’s important to me. As long as I have a little family here to share the moment, that makes it extra special.”