RALEIGH, N.C. -- For the first three Staal brothers, NHL success came quickly. First Eric, followed by Jordan, then Marc.
That was not the end of the family pipeline, however.
A fourth Staal, Jared, will make his NHL debut Thursday night, skating with Eric and Jordan for the Carolina Hurricanes. Marc is in town, too, with the New York Rangers, but he won't be able to round out the on-ice family photo, as he recovers from an eye injury.
Jared's route to the NHL has been nothing like those of his older brothers. Eric, Jordan and Marc were first-round draft picks, jumping straight to the NHL out of juniors. They cast long shadows on their youngest brother -- but not so long that the NHL dream ever went away.
"Obviously I have a different path than my three older brothers," Jared Staal said. "They're all exceptional players who deserved to be in the NHL at a young age. I guess mine is more conventional compared to most hockey players."
Jared, 22, has been a role player in the American Hockey League during his three professional seasons, even spending 33 games in the ECHL. This season, he has four goals and seven points for the Charlotte Checkers in the American Hockey League. His achievements have so far been modest, but that doesn't mean he won't have a chance to prove himself.
"He's become more comfortable in a role," Eric Staal said. "It took him a little bit. In junior, he was a little more of a scorer, and now in Charlotte, he's more of a PK guy and a physical force, using his reach and size. He's getting better at it, and he's going to need to play that role tonight because that's what's going to make him successful and able to play consistently in this League."
With the Hurricanes eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention, Jared will get his shot at the big time, skating on the wing with Jordan. He hopes to play a simple game, once the novelty wears off.
"I was almost in shock. For the first hour it was surreal," Jared said. "I had that feeling in my stomach and had the shakes. Things have started to calm down a little now. Hopefully I can stay that way for the game tonight."
And don't think for a moment that Jared is wondering if he can live up to the family name. He knows his career isn't likely to mirror that of his brothers.
"A few years ago, I thought about it more," Jared admitted. "Now, it would be a shame to really feel pressure for having three older brothers in the NHL. Who wouldn't want that? So I enjoy their success, for sure."
In the end, Jared will be like any other 22-year-old getting his first taste of the NHL -- with or without a family legacy.
"It's going to be exciting," Jared said, sporting a toothy grin. "It's been a few years of thinking about making this jump."