Eric Staal Finding a Breath of Fresh Air with Minnesota Wild

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 05: Eric Staal #12 and Zach Parise #11 of the Minnesota Wild look on during the game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on January 5, 2017 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)
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Eric Staal has been making a name for himself in Minnesota, becoming one of the top players on the Wild’s offense and having one of his best seasons in years. Through 47 games played in the 2016-17 National Hockey League season, Staal has netted 16 goals and has added 24 assists for a total of 40 points. He stands as the Wild’s number one point scorer with 40, number two on the assists list, and their number one goal scorer. Staal has added more physicality to the Minnesota offense and has provided the squad with some veteran leadership.

Eric Staal was signed this past summer by the Wild after becoming a free agent, not having had been signed back by the New York Rangers, whom he spent the second half of the 2015-16 season with. In 20 games played in the Big Apple, Staal only scored three goals and added three assists. His play was dubbed disappointing, especially considering he was supposed to have an explosive performance with the Rangers. However, Staal failed to impress and was left to become a free agent. Many began to question whether or not the former 100-point scorer was ready to call it quits and retire.

Fast forward to the 2016-17 season, the Wild has undergone coaching changes, with Bruce Boudreau entering the scene. Staal was signed to a three-year, $10.5 million contract. Immediately however, Staal was under the gun, pressured to perform well. Staal has done just that. Playing mostly on a line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, he has produced significant points as well as resurrecting himself as a top six forward who can still play a fast, physical game of hockey.

Head Coach Boudreau understood that Staal played solid hockey at the center position and knew that that was Staal’s comfort area…and of course, his area to best perform and succeed. “(Boudreau) told me that (I’m a center) in the summer and he hasn’t changed his stance and changed his opinion,” Staal said in an interview with Yahoo Sports. “That matters for players. That matters for a lot of different reasons. Knowing that confidence from your coach is there, it makes a big difference. That’s never changed with him since the moment I talked to him in the summer and since getting here. He has put me in the position to be successful and fortunately things have gone well.”

The best part about this season for Staal however, is the fact that he is having fun playing and producing. The 32-year old came off his worst season last year since his rookie year and has turned that completely around. “It was important for me to go to a team where there’s a buzz and a feeling every night, a building that’s full regardless if it’s a Monday night game against whoever,” Staal told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “There’s a big-time feel here. It’ll help push me to be amped up and ready every night.”

With the pace he is on, Staal is set to have his best season since 2010-11. If he stays on track and healthy, he will hit 78 points. He is also on track to pass 30 goals, the first time he would do so since 2011-12. All in all, Staal is having one of his best seasons in years, and it is showing. He is an offensive weapon and has proven himself to be a valuable asset for the Wild, who are ranked third in the NHL with 67 points and sit in the number one spot in the Western Conference and Central Division.

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