When Eric Staal inked a three-year deal with the Minnesota Wild, it was expected that he’d add some depth to the forward group and provide leadership for youngsters Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, and Mikael Granlund.
Minnesota Wild Forward Eric Staal Puts Up Stellar Season
In his second season with the team, he has greatly surpassed what most expected from him. He has had a resurgence to his career and become one of the leagues top goal scorers in the 2017-18 season.
Drafted second overall by the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2003, he was regarded as a top prospect and for good reason. He put together a respectable rookie campaign that season with 31 points, and that was a mere glimpse into the excellence that was soon to come from him.
From the 2005-06 through 2011-12 seasons, he consistently registered 70+ points, and began that stretch with an impressive 100-point season with 45 goals, to date a career best, and 55 assists. Staal is one of only fourteen players to record 100 points in a season since 2005-06.
The 2015-16 season saw his 12-year stint end with the Hurricanes when he was traded to the New York Rangers. His point total took a nosedive to 39 between the two clubs that season and it seemed that the downswing of his career had begun. It was clear the Hurricanes were going to need a rebuild and that Staal was not going to factor into it. At the time of the trade it had been seven years since Carolina had been in the playoffs and now in his thirties, Staal needed to go to a team with playoff potential. The Rangers were eliminated in round one and Staal failed to register a single point. The Hurricanes received two second-round picks in the deal and used one of them to draft defenseman Luke Martin this past year, while trading away the 2016 pick. Staal will continue to be regarded as one of the greatest Hurricanes in team history, and as they continue a rebuild he will aim to keep turning back the clock.
Since joining the Minnesota Wild, he has tallied 141 points, with 71 goals, in 164 games. He has put together his first 40-goal season since 2008-09 and third of his career. He has also reached 70 points for the first time since 2011-12.
The 2016-17 was certainly a welcomed surprise from Staal, but that did bring up the concerns of it being a resurgence or simply a one-year bang. The numbers he’s put up this season should put any doubt out of our minds. He’s registered his eighth 70+ point season. A key piece to note is that only 17 of his 76 points have come on the power play, which further highlights his ability to excel in 5-on-5 hockey. He has also recorded twelve game-winning goals for Minnesota, with eight last season and four this campaign.
His first playoff run with the Wild ended prematurely in a five-game first-round exit last season. He was unable to carry over his regular season success to that series with only one assist on the power play and twelve shots in those five games. He will aim to change that against a formidable first-round opponent in the Winnipeg Jets this year. If he can, it will give the Wild the edge needed for a first-round upset.
Eric Staal’s Excellence
He was one of only eight players to score 40 or more goals this past season and if he added in another dozen or so assists his name would be included in league MVP discussions. He has eclipsed the depth leader role expected of him when he began his stint in Minnesota and become the team’s MVP. While a 17.2 shooting percentage is a lot bigger than his career average of 11.2 percent and may drop a little next year, this would still put him in line for 25-30 goals.
With a cap hit of just $3.5 million per year, he is relatively cheap for a top end goal scorer. In comparison, Alex Ovechkin earns $10.0 million per year and tallied only seven more goals than Staal. The key similarity between these two is the value they possess for their respective franchises. Staal is entering the final year of his deal and will likely expect a pay increase. After many disappointing seasons in Carolina and now in his mid-thirties, he will want to finish his career with a team that can give him an opportunity to play into April and May. That is likely what drew him to Minnesota in the first place and could see him inking an extension with the club.
Staal is only six goals shy of 400 on his career and if he performs at this level again next season, he’ll join the 1000-point club. He has brought a spark to the Wild roster that will be critical in a playoff run and re-established himself as one of the NHL’s elite talents.
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