At 34, Eric Staal can’t do everything the same way he did a decade ago. For instance, the Wild forward used to indulge in burgers and ice cream regularly, without worrying about the calories or nutritional value.
“You become more conscious of eating properly and making sure you’re preparing the right way every night,’’ Staal said Friday, following the Wild’s practice at TRIA Rink. “There’s nothing wrong with a little treat once in a while, but you can’t be as lenient as when you were younger.’’
That unwavering discipline and mindfulness has served Staal well in recent years, helping position him for another milestone. The center has 399 career NHL goals, and his next will make him the sixth active NHL player and 96th overall to reach the 400-goal mark. It could come as soon as Saturday, when the Wild plays at St. Louis in the first of a string of five road games in nine days.
Staal is coming off one of his better performances this season, a one-goal, two-assist effort in Tuesday’s 4-3 victory at Edmonton. That marked an emphatic turnaround from a substandard game the night before in a loss at Vancouver.
The same dedication that led Staal to cut back on the goodies helped him mend the flaws quickly. For the Wild to excel, he knows the team needs him to be at his best consistently.
“I’ve been around long enough that I’m pretty self-aware of my game and what makes me successful,’’ Staal said. “In Vancouver, I wasn’t happy with how I played.
“When you get that next chance, you want to make sure you’re back on track. For me, it’s about my legs, driving, going to the net. In Edmonton, I had the puck a lot more, and I was using my strengths. Now I want to make sure I keep building on that.’’
After 12 games, Staal is fourth on the team in scoring (10 points), and his four goals are tied for second-most behind Mikael Granlund’s six. Five of his points have come in the past three games.
The next time Staal scores, he will join Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Marleau, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sidney Crosby and former Wild forward Marian Gaborik on the list of active players with 400 or more goals. It will mark the second major milestone this season for Staal, who played his 1,100th NHL game on Oct. 19 at Dallas.
Staal said he has long been confident he would reach the 400-goal mark, especially after a rejuvenation with the Wild that led to 42 goals last season. Though coach Bruce Boudreau said bigger players like the 6-4 Staal tend to start seasons more slowly, he’s happy with what he’s seen so far.
“[People have] been doubting him for three or four years now,’’ Boudreau said. “I don’t doubt him. I just put him out there, and I know something good is going to happen in the end.’’
While Staal appreciates the statistical achievements that come with a long career, his self-esteem is not rooted in numbers. It’s nourished by the everyday actions that have carried him to all those goals, and the ones to come.
“I take pride in everything I do,’’ he said. “It’s a privilege to play in this league. You have to take pride in the way you prepare and how you perform.
“I’m trying to prove myself every day, making sure I’m at my best to help my team win games,” he said. “That’s my focus. And that’s how it should be.’’