Since the start of the month, the Wild have been the hottest team in the NHL’s Western Conference. Eric Staal is a big reason for that.
Staal leads the Wild in goals (11), assists (15), and points (26) entering Friday night’s play, rejuvenating his career in the Twin Cities less than six months after some questioned whether his career might be in decline. He was traded from the Carolina Hurricanes to the New York Rangers toward the end of last season — a rental that wasn’t a good fit on either end.
So as the Wild took the ice to play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Friday night, Staal took pride in the fact that he’s playing so well. It served as a subtle reminder to the folks of the Big Apple that he still has a lot to give.
“It feels good to be playing well with this group that we have,” Staal said, trying to avoid making the story about himself. “It’s been fun. We want to keep this thing rolling.”
When prodded, though, Staal opened up a bit about his time with the Rangers.
“I was disappointed with how it went,” he said.
Staal was forced to play out of position from time to time, as the Rangers boasting a surplus of centers. In turn, Staal re-evaluated his options when his contract expired.
“I knew going into the summer I was going to do my hardest to find the right opportunity and right fit regardless of how much someone was going to pay me,” he said. “I was going to find the right situation for me to be successful. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity here.”
And the Wild were fortunate to get Staal. Aside form leading the team in the big statistical categories, he also leads the team with five game-winning goals.
“I’ve grown to expect him to be the leader that he’s become on our team,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You know every time he’s out there he’s doing his best, and lately he has really come to the forefront. He is doing whatever it takes to win.”
Staal attributed his success to a myriad of things, most notably being put in a position to succeed.
“I had some good conversations with Bruce over the summer with where he thought I would fit with this group,” Staal said. “I was given an opportunity to play my natural position at center, and they needed a center. … It was a combination of a lot of things. I’ve been put in a position to be successful, and I’ve gained confidence as I’ve gone. Things have been good. I have a long way to go for the rest of the season and the rest of my career. It has been fun to be back on the horse the way I expect myself to be. Hopefully it continues.”
As for having any bad blood heading into the matchup, Staal swiftly swept away those thoughts.
“A little extra for me tonight because I got to know these guys here,” he said. “It’s a great organization. As brief as it was, I thoroughly enjoyed being a Ranger.
“It was difficult how we went out. That is sometimes how it goes. I’m happy where I’m at now, and I’m really excited for the rest of the season and the future.”