Paul Stastny has been called many things during his career.
Stats. Stazz. Paulie Walnuts. But if you talk to the center himself, Leonardo — as Leonardo da Vinci — seems more appropriate.
That’s because Stastny fashions himself as a modern-day hockey renaissance man and he has the game to prove it. If the Golden Knights need a goal or an assist, he can make it happen. If they need help on special teams, he’s there. And if the team needs to win a key draw, he’s ready to battle in the faceoff circle.
“I’ve done that my whole life. I’m an old-school, 200-foot player,” Stastny said, referring to the length of an NHL ice sheet. “There’s not too many in this league. Some guys say they are but they aren’t. There’s a few on this team. There’s just a mindset. I think growing up, certain guys have that all the time.”
The Knights signed Stastny to a three-year, $19.5 million contract this offseason to be an all-zone player for them, and after a lengthy delay he’s providing the impact they expected. He suffered a lower-body injury on Oct. 8 against the Buffalo Sabres and missed more than nine weeks. But he has nine points in his nine games back.
Stastny believed it would take him a game for every week missed to get back to 100 percent, so the best might still be to come.
“He’s a very good player, a very smart player,” center William Karlsson said. “To have him back, it’s been huge for us. He scores goals, gets assists and is very good on the faceoff dot, so he’s kind of a complete player.”
Stastny’s impact is evident outside of the scoresheet, too, as he pressures the puck well on the forecheck and works hard in the defensive zone. His plus-five is tied for fifth-best on the team despite his 30-game absence, and the Knights second line of Stastny, Brandon Pirri and Alex Tuch is a collective plus-17 in their last three games.
“He just does everything right,” Pirri said. “You know where he’s going to be, you know where the puck is going to go and it makes me and Tuchy’s lives really easy.”
Coach Gerard Gallant believes Stastny’s game fits all situations, which is why the 33-year-old is on both the power play and penalty kill. Gallant also gave Stastny a few extra shifts in recent games against the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings, substituting him and his 60.4 faceoff winning percentage in for key defensive draws.
“He’s real solid, and when we got him we knew what he does,” Gallant said. “He’s not a big, big point producer, but he’s a great defensive player, wins a lot of faceoffs, does all the right stuff.”
The team is 5-1-3 since his return, and hockey’s Leonardo has made his presence felt all over the ice.
“Being hurt in early in the season, I was still trying to figure out new systems,” Stastny said. “What you’re doing on the PK, on the power play.
”Sometimes on a new team you think a little bit too much and then you get going and you start playing your game.”
*Who: Kings at Golden Knights
*When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
*Where: T-Mobile Arena
*TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757, Dish 414/5414)
*Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
*Line: Golden Knights -205; total 5½