“Everybody wants to play with him because he’s so smart.”
It is perhaps the biggest compliment a head coach can bestow on a player and it came as little surprise when the Winnipeg Jets bench boss uttered those words when asked recently about veteran forward Paul Stastny.
The landscape has been altered significantly since the off-season trade to reacquire Stastny from the Vegas Golden Knights was made on Oct. 9, 2020, with Pierre-Luc Dubois entering the equation in the blockbuster deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
But that hasn’t meant the impact Stastny is having on the Jets as they approach the midway point of this 56-game season has been diminished one bit.
That’s simply not the case.
Stastny’s influence includes both on and off-ice contributions.
“He’s one of those guys who is so personable, he’s so easy-going and he’s got so much knowledge of the game that there are little things he tells you and you’re like, ‘Wow, I didn’t even really think about that,” said Jets centre Adam Lowry.
“You see what’s made him such a good player and what made him such a good pro, with the way that he takes care of himself off the ice, the way he interacts with everyone, the way he is on the ice, he complements whoever he’s playing with and he seems to bring out the best in them, whether he’s playing down the middle or now, lately, on the wing.
“You see these little plays and that might go unnoticed, but the chances are that it’s creating a lot of success for his line. It’s been great having him back. We’re really happy that he’s in Winnipeg.”
Lowry isn’t the only one who feels that way, as many others have been singing Stastny’s praises throughout the course of this season.
Sure, Stastny, who has seven goals and 14 points in 24 games this season, was brought back for this second tour of duty to plug the hole at second-line centre.
But it’s his hockey awareness that’s allowed Stastny to have the ability to move seamlessly to the wing, currently on the top line with Mark Scheifele and captain Blake Wheeler.
Maurice has conceded that this isn’t necessarily where Stastny will stay long-term, noting that having him on the wing with Dubois is another option that will be explored eventually.
“The plays that he makes, the small area plays that he makes, everybody appreciates,” said Maurice. “But you’re 100 per cent right. He’s such a veteran player but he’s a really good guy and a really good easygoing veteran player who plays the game right, plays it hard, makes plays.
“But Paul would be one of those guys as a veteran player that has a connection to almost everybody in our room. Which is unusual.
“Sometimes when those guys age into that category, they hang out with the one or two guys. They have kids so they only hang out with a certain section. The proof of that: just watch us at the end of our practices, right? He’ll end up talking to everybody and he’ll end up talking to them for 20 minutes at the end of the practice. Everybody loves (Stastny).”
Jets forward Mathieu Perreault, who himself has played the role of the human jumper cables for his ability to provide a spark to a line in need of one, says Stastny is “good night-in and night-out” and “always makes the right play.”
“The puck’s on his stick, it’s always going to the right spot, to the right player,” he said. “That’s just how he plays. He’s just reliable all over the ice.”
While many players prefer a bit more continuity when it comes to regular linemates, Stastny simply shrugs his shoulders.
This is not a new development, either, it’s an approach that has served him well throughout the course of his lengthy career.
Is it fair to call Stastny the Jets’ new Mr. Fix-it?
The query was sent directly to the source and he was too modest to accept the moniker.
“I don’t know. I just try to play my game. It doesn’t matter who I’m with,” Stastny said on Monday from Toronto, where the Jets open a three-game set against the first-place Maple Leafs.
“I try to help my linemates and make the game easier for them. I think here I have had different line combinations, but I’m really not complaining. Because whether I’m playing with the guys I’m playing with now or whether I’m playing with (Andrew) Copp or (Nikolaj Ehlers), you’re always going to be playing with good players.
“In that situation, if you have a coach that trusts you and puts you with different line combinations, you just have to go out there and play your game, and not change your game. That’s always been my game.
“Maybe early in my career I should have complained more about it so I got the linemates I wanted, but that’s not the way I’ve been brought up. I just go out there and enjoy the opportunity.
“Sometimes when you are younger, it gets in your head a little bit when different line combinations happen, but I’ve always been a big believer that whatever happens and whatever is best for your team usually works out in the end. Sometimes you might think in your head that one combination may work, which might, but then the other combinations don’t work and the team stops winning, and then you realize that means nothing.
“I’d rather have the team win and me play on whatever line I’m playing on and the team’s winning and we’re all having fun. That feels a lot better.”
Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for Sportsnet.ca and contributes to hockey coverage for 680 CJOB. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.