Before he even made his own NHL debut, Tyler Ennis said he remembered watching Eric Staal in the league. Charlie Coyle called Staal “an older presence in the locker room.” Even Devan Dubnyk remarked on how Eric Staal has been “doing it for so long.”
He’s only the fourth-oldest player on the Wild roster, guys.
But Staal does have 13 NHL seasons and more than 1,000 games to his name already at the apparently ancient age of 33, so those comments come from a place of respect rather than mirth. And in a season of injuries and line switch-ups that have only recently resolved, Staal has been the Wild’s most consistent player.
Staal leads the team in goals (19), points with (37), shots on goal (121), shorthanded goals (2) and multi-point games (10). In an otherwise embarrassing loss in Colorado this past Saturday, he scored the Wild’s only two goals for the 60th multi-goal game of his career and also his fifth this season, which ties for second most in the league.
All that should mean a shoo-in pick for the All-Star Game on Jan. 28 in Tampa with selections announced Wednesday. But Staal — who has been to the All-Star Game from 2007-09 and was also the MVP in 2008 as well as a team captain in 2011 — could be snubbed thanks to the format. A 3-on-3 tournament that pits four teams separated by division against each other combined with the abundance of star forwards in the Central Division means Staal might have to give way for defenseman Ryan Suter and/or goaltender Devan Dubnyk, as happened last year.
As far as least season, though, Staal said he wasn’t feeling slighted.
“When it comes to the All-Star Game, especially the format that it is now, that’s just the way it goes,” he said. “I felt last season, we had such an incredible first half that there could’ve been many worthy players. If you get selected, it’s an honor, and it’s one of those things you don’t say no to because it is a fun time. It’s neat to experience that with family and friends. But it’s not going to break me if it doesn’t happen. It’s about this team and getting back in the win column starting [Tuesday against Calgary] and playing well before the break.”
Coyle said Staal would be his pick for the Wild’s All-Star representative.
“He’s proven to himself and everyone else that he’s still got a lot in the tank here, and he can be the player that he’s shown us,” Coyle said. “He’s been great for us. We are lucky to have a guy like him with his experience and everything that he brings. He’s been awesome. He’s been the MVP of our team so far.”
Staal came to the Wild last season by way of a short stint at the New York Rangers after 12 seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, where he was captain. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said every team needs a No. 1 center, and Staal has filled that gap “very nicely” since his arrival.
He also seems to bring out the best in his teammates. Linemate Ennis’ play has improved considerably since finding chemistry with Staal.
“He’s a really good leader. He’s vocal. He demands a lot as a linemate, which is good,” Ennis said. “You come back to the bench, and he’ll let you know if you did something good, but he’ll let you know if you did something bad, too. And I like that. I like having that kind of relationship with linemates.
“We all know in the room how valuable he is and how great he is and that he belongs in the All-Star Game.”
So while Staal has much support from his teammates, at home, it’s more pressure, mainly from his three sons Parker, 8, Levi, 6, and Finley, 3. The last time Staal was in the All-Star Game, only Parker was around, and he was only 1 year old.
But the kids might be more stunned to meet the other All-Stars that weekend rather than the one they see at home all the time.
“They know the young guns in this league. They watch NHL Network,” Staal said. “So if I was to be there, they would have some fun.”