It always has seemed like just a matter of time until Jordan Staal of the Penguins wins a Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward.

He's a key member of one of the league's elite penalty-killing units and routinely is matched against -- and neutralizes -- opposing teams' top lines.

Staal is a virtual prototype of a shutdown center, with qualities -- he's big, mobile and strong and has good instincts -- that make him a natural for the Selke.

That Staal could thrive in such a role was apparent before the Penguins selected him with the second choice in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. What wasn't so evident until the past month or so was just how much of an offensive force he can be at this level.

Odds are that if Staal ends up with a league trophy on his mantle, it's going to be a Selke, not an Art Ross, but he has been showing up on the score sheet with striking regularity this season.

Staal enters the Penguins game at 7:38 p.m. today at Florida with five points in the past three games, a surge that has run his 17-game totals to nine goals and six assists.

That puts him on pace to rack up 42 goals and 28 assists if his games-missed total this season stays at two. His single-season bests are 29 goals, 28 assists and 49 points.