Edmonton Oilers forward prospect Yan Stastny is both an American success story and an international hockey player. The son of Hall of Famer Peter Stastny was born in Quebec City while his father was playing for the Quebec Nordiques, but he moved to New Jersey when his father was traded to the Devils in 1990. The Stastny family moved to St. Louis in 1993 when Peter signed with the Blues and they have been there ever since.
Growing up playing youth hockey in St. Louis, like many American kids Yan Stastny dreamed of playing junior hockey and then college hockey. He began with the defunct St. Louis Sting of the North American Hockey League for the 1999-00 season. As a 17-year-old in his rookie season Stastny scored 12 goals and 23 assists in 45 games. After a tough start to the 2000-01 season, he moved from the Sting to the Omaha Lancers. Stastny played an aggressive game under head coach Mike Hastings, totaling 101 penalty minutes in 44 games, but he also scored 17 goals and 14 assists, enough to attract a scholarship from the University of Notre Dame.
Playing under former NHL center Dave Poulin, Stastny scored 6 goals and 11 assists in 2001-02, enough for the Boston Bruins to selected the Fighting Irish freshman in the eighth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Stastny followed his rookie season with 14 goals and nine assists as a sophomore, but his career was not progressing as he had hoped, so he decided to leave college and play professional hockey, signing with the Nurnberg Ice Tigers of the German Elite League. Only 21, in a foreign country and culture, Stastny received the same ice time he saw with Notre Dame, only at the professional level in Germany’s highest league, playing against numerous former NHL, AHL, and IHL players. He scored nine goals and 20 assists in 44 games in 2003-04, good for seventh in Nurnberg scoring. As a 22-year-old, Stastny led the Ice Tigers in scoring with 24 goals and 30 assists in 51 games.
It took playing in Germany for Team USA to take notice of Stastny. After Scott Gomez went down with an injury in the ECHL playoffs while playing for the Alaska Aces, Team USA looked to Stastny to complete their 2005 World Championships roster. He scored two goals in seven games in Innsbruck playing for the red, white, and blue, and also established himself as a legitimate NHL prospect.
However, the Boston Bruins were not pushing too hard for their prospect to play in Providence, so both parties were able to arrange a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. Stastny was traded Aug. 30 to the Oilers for a fourth round pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft that had originally been shipped to Edmonton for Brad Isbister on Aug. 1. Edmonton assigned Stastny to the Iowa Stars, one of the Oilers two partial AHL affiliates in 2005-06, and the Canadian-American found himself adjusting to the North American professional game.
At his best when he forechecks hard and plays with an edge, the 23-year-old has 12 goals and 16 assists in 48 games, fourth in Iowa scoring. Playing primarily on Iowa’s third line, Stastny has also seen time on both the power play and the penalty kill.
Hockey’s Future recently caught up with the Edmonton prospect Feb. 11, Stastny’s highest scoring game of the season. Scratched against Milwaukee the night before, he responded with a shorthanded goal and three power-play assists, thanks primarily to hustle and a level of confidence with the puck that Des Moines had not seen. Stastny was also selected as the fifth shooter in the shootout, but he did not score and the Admirals won 7-6. (Ironically, Stastny suffered an upper leg injury against the Peoria Rivermen the next night when he lost an edge as the fourth shooter in a 4-3 Iowa shootout loss.)
HF: I noticed you weren’t in the line-up last night against Milwaukee, what happened with that?
YS: It was just something that the coach decided to go with, something I can’t discuss right now, but it was one of those things that made me a little bitter for tonight. It helped.
HF: How much motivation did that provide you heading into tonight, because obviously you had a pretty good night, individually?
YS: Well yeah, you come into tonight with a little chip on the shoulder, a little frustrated that I didn’t get to play, and you’re playing with a little more piss and vinegar, I guess you could say. It worked out, I got some lucky bounces to show on the scoreboard. I was fortunate enough that guys were able to finish off the opportunities that were created there.
HF: You played your last two years in Nurnberg, what made you decide to leave Notre Dame and why Germany?
YS: It was just something we felt, me, my dad and my agent felt, that is was something that would help me mature as a hockey player, getting used to the European style of the game, just more run-and-gun, more open, more skating and so forth. It’s just when you get a little bit of both worlds it helps make you a better play all around.
HF: How would you say the DEL compares to the American Hockey League?
YS: I think it’s similar, but the competition here is a little step quicker, but there are a lot of North Americans over in Germany, guys that have played in the AHL, NHL a couple years, have been up and down, and they go and finish their careers. It was a great experience going out there.
HF: What was the skill level of the German players, how did they compare?
YS: They’re very skilled players. They’re very talented. It’s great for German hockey having six, seven, eight imports, ten imports on a team, and it helps them develop a little bit quicker and mature more. Very talented players, and you see that in the league.
HF: How do you think the German Elite League helped you develop as a player?
YS: Anywhere you can go where you can play a lot of minutes, plays a key role on a team, always help you mature and develop as a player all around, and that’s one of the big things that helped me when I was in Germany. My first year there I was just learning the ropes and second year I carried a bigger load than in the first and it kind of helps you learn the ins and outs of leadership, the day-to-day grind and so forth.
HF: What were some of the personal adjustments you had to make living in Germany?
YS: It’s just a culture shock when you first get there. It’s a whole different language. It’s not that far off, both of my parents are Slovakian, so the European style is not new to me in any sort of way, just the language barrier was the toughest part.
HF: You were originally a Boston pick but then traded to Edmonton, what was your reaction when you learned you had been traded to the Edmonton organization?
YS: I was very happy. Edmonton is a great organization, has a great history, same thing with Boston, but it was just something that all three parties, Edmonton, us, and Boston, felt that it was the best move to make, and it worked out well.
HF: Were you earmarked to go to Providence or were you going to stay in Europe?
YS: It was something that we still hadn’t decided yet, but it was an issue that was going to be dealt with when everything was going to be situated.
HF: You’re playing with a team that’s a split affiliation, what do you feel are some of the positives and then also some of the negatives of that?
YS: There’s definitely no negatives. The positives are there’s great competitiveness among the guys and a great group of guys over there, it’s a lot of fun. There’s definitely no negatives about it.
HF: Growing up as a Stastny, I imagine you had a number of opportunities, probably major juniors if you’d wished, what made you decide to go the North American League, USHL, NCAA route?
YS: It’s more of an American thing. I was born in Canada, but I was raised basically in the States. We lived in the States for about 15 years. Even with my parents education was a big factor, it played a key role in it, just guys playing juniors in America having to go the college route and that’s how I ended up doing.
HF: I assume you started skating when you lived in Quebec City?
YS: Yeah, I started skating when I was young and started playing organized hockey around the age of five or six. When I was growing up I played four or five different sports. As I got older, around the age of 12, 13, 14, I just stayed with hockey, and it was a good pick (smiling).
HF: Do you feel starting out in Canada was an advantage than if you’d been born in the U.S.?
YS: Not really, because when we first moved to the States we moved to New Jersey, and just growing up you play youth hockey. You don’t skate, you don’t get as much practice, as much on-ice time as you would in Canada, but it’s something you grow up and you play youth hockey with kids in the neighborhood and street hockey with my brother and friends and you play as often as you can so you can become a better player.
HF: What were some of the first things you learned in junior hockey with the St. Louis Sting of the NAHL?
YS: That was a fun year. It was my first year in the league as a 16- or 17-year-old. It was kind of an eye-opening experience. It was great, we had some great players on that team. We didn’t play too well, but we had Rick Zombo as a coach, he’s been in the NHL, he’s played everywhere. Just learning from him, different aspects of the game. Everywhere you go you try to pick up a few things here and there. Hopefully more than a few, and just add it to your repertoire and become a better all-around player.
HF: How big of a step was it from the NAHL to the USHL?
YS: It was a little better league. There’s a little more pressure in that league, I would say, just because you’re in smaller cities and there are more people who come to the game, bigger fan base, even with college and pro scouts at most of the game. In Omaha, I had a great time out there. Mike Hastings is probably one of the best coaches I’ve ever dealt with. He’s a guy that stressed hard work and mental toughness, that’s where I think I got some of that from.
HF: How do you think growing up Stastny helped you?
YS: That’s a question that everybody asks, but I can’t compare it to anything. It definitely helps having a father that’s played in the NHL, but I don’t have anything else to compare it to. Having him come to games when he can, giving constructive criticism and pointers here and there, it’s always a little extra boost looking up and seeing your old man as one of the best guys that ever played the game, and you want to follow his footsteps and try and emulate some of what he’s accomplished.
HF: What do you think your strengths are?
YS: I think I’m a good overall player. I think I skate pretty well, I understand the game pretty well, and that’s something I try to emphasize every game I play.
HF: What are some of the things you’re working on so that one day you can make it to the NHL and skate in Edmonton full time?
YS: Just my strength, and just being able to compete every single day and not take a day off, which is something you learn pretty quickly here.
HF: It looks like you’re becoming more comfortable offensively in the AHL, is that an accurate assessment?
YS: It’s all a matter of confidence. Confidence comes and goes, and when you have it you feel more comfortable with the puck and you feel like you can do more things in the offensive zone.
HF: What are your goals for the rest of the season?
YS: I want this team to make the playoffs and go deep in the playoffs, win the Calder Cup. That should be the goal of everyone on this team. We have a great group of guys, a lot of skill. We play a lot of games where we play well as a unit and sometimes we kind of fall apart at times, but we just need to be able to play together for 60 minutes for the rest of the season and then into the playoffs. If we’re lucky with injuries and bounces, you need a little luck on your side to get that, hopefully we can make it all the way.
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