After experiencing how seamless his transition was to the Wild last season, center Eric Staal expected better in 2017-18.
And so far, he’s delivered on that vision.
Not only has Staal already surpassed his goal production, but he’s only a point shy of tying his output from the previous season.
He might also be nudging his way into the conversation for the Hart Trophy as league MVP, chatter that can start to stir after the type of performance he put on Tuesday as Staal’s hat trick and five-point effort led the Wild to an 8-3 drubbing of the Blues at Xcel Energy Center.
“If he was playing in Toronto, he’d be up for the MVP,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I’ll just tell you that right now. He’s done everything for us.”
Staal’s 14th career hat trick bumped him up to 33 goals on the season, five more than he had last season, and he’s at 64 points.
Only two players in the league (Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin) have more goals than Staal, who’s tied with the likes of Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov and Vegas’ William Karlsson at 33.
Ovechkin and Kucherov have been mentioned as Hart Trophy possibilities and with Staal boasting similar credentials and the Wild surging toward a playoff berth, perhaps he starts to gain more consideration if the team can maintain this run.
“I think there’s definitely a good vibe for me as far as goal scoring-wise and the puck following me around at times,” Staal said. “Those are good things. When you’re playing on a good team with great players, those things happen.”
Here’s what else to watch for after the Wild’s win over the Blues.
- Boudreau said this is the longest Staal has been on one line this season, and his versatility in being able to shuffle around the lineup has been invaluable.
“He’s never complained,” Boudreau said. “He never says a word. ‘Whatever you need to do. Put him with me, I’ll get him going.’ He’s a great teammate like that.”
What makes the line with wingers Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund successful, Staal believes, is the playmaking ability of the three.
“When you create some space with speed like Zucks can and I try to at times and with a guy like Granny who can make some plays in tight spaces, you’re going to create looks,” Staal said. “We’ve done that over the last stretch and hopefully we can keep that going.”
- Not only did the victory maintain the Wild’s three-point lead over the Stars for the third spot in the Central Division, but it also put seven points between the team and the reeling Blues.
“It was huge,” Zucker said. “We want to create as much distance as we can, especially down the stretch here, and just to make sure we're building our game, too, as a team and just working toward where we want to be come playoff time."
- The Wild’s next seven opponents are all out of a playoff position, a golden opportunity in the schedule to continue the rhythm that it’s found itself in lately.
“This is the time,” Boudreau said. “Our schedule gets an awful lot more difficult when March rolls around.”