Marc Staal's career was in jeopardy after he sustained a severe eye injury in March, but Thursday was a breath of fresh air in the defenseman's ongoing recovery.
The 26-year-old's confidence was on full display in his return to regular-season action in the New York Rangers opener -- and fantasy owners would be wise to take notice.
Staal was not drafted on average in Yahoo Fantasy leagues, largely because of the uncertainty surrounding his health. While he made a one-game comeback attempt during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Washington Capitals, there were still lingering effects of his career-threatening injury.
Now, back on the ice and healthy for the start of the season, he has wasted no time in assuming a featured role under new coach Alain Vigneault.
Thursday's loss to the Phoenix Coyotes didn't come with many positives from a Rangers standpoint, but Staal emerged as a bright spot for New York, logging a game-high 25:40 and scoring a power-play goal. He added two shots and three hits, and saw 3:47 with the man advantage to lead all Rangers defensemen.
Prior to his injury, Staal posted a career-best points-per-game average (.52) in 21 games during the 2012-13 season. He's been no stranger to 40-plus PIM seasons in the past and even posted 100-plus shots on goal in 2010-11. All this means is that potential strong season for Staal in 2013-14 could provide your fantasy team with an extra boost in a number of categories.
He's been through a lot of adversity this calendar year, but now would be an opportune time to take a flyer on him in deep fantasy leagues. If you own injured Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, slotting him on injured reserve and adding Staal would give you a chance to see if Staal continues to produce for the Rangers.
Also, if you simply waited too long to shore up your fantasy defense corps in your draft and are seeking a fourth or fifth blueliner with upside, don't hesitate to take a chance on Staal. He's only owned in 15 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen
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