Today, at just 25 years old, Staal, the Hurricanes captain, is one of the graybeards on the team.
"It's a unique situation," Staal told NHL.com while laughing.
"He is a geezer," cracked coach Paul Maurice.
Staal still considers himself a young guy and he should, but he's also older than 11 of his teammates, and seven of them 22 years old or younger. At 33 years old, defenseman Joe Corvo is the oldest player on the team and one of just four in his 30s.
Compare that to the Red Wings, who have two 40 year olds in Nicklas Lidstrom and Mike Modano, not to mention seven more guys that are 35-plus, and it's astounding how young the Hurricanes really are.
"It's different," ex-Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour told NHL.com. "They are very young. There are no older guys around anymore. Colsie (Erik Cole) is the old guy now and he was the young kid when I was playing, so it's different but it's good. Hopefully that youthful energy will translate into a lot of good hockey."
According to Maurice, it has already translated into a strong training camp. The style he wants this team to play, including a two-man forecheck and pinching defensemen, requires a lot of speed and energy.
This year's team has that whereas last year's team did not.
"They have that energy and urgency every time they come to the rink," Ron Francis, Carolina's associate head coach, told NHL.com. "
Carolina last season got off to a rocky start and despite a strong finish still couldn't recover in time to make the playoffs. Gone from that squad are true graybeards (in professional athlete terms) such as Brind'Amour, Ray Whitney and Manny Legace.
The Hurricanes now have rookies like Jeff Skinner (18 years old), Zac Dalpe (20), Drayson Bowman (21) and Jamie McBain (22) prepared to assume full-time roles. Brandon Sutter (21), who has played in 122 NHL games, is considered a grizzled veteran on this team. Jiri Tlusty (22) is close to that as well as he's played in 92 games.
"It took us about two weeks to get anybody to say anything, and now we can't get them to shut up," Maurice said while smiling. "But, that's really what we wanted because we're trying to integrate so many new people into a different style of play and getting communication on the ice is a real important part of our game."
Sunday's practice at Jubilee Sports Arena was an example of what Maurice is talking about.
The players were put through the paces in an unfamiliar setting when it was 3 in the morning back home, but they were laughing, hooting, hollering, yelping and just having a grand old time throughout the entire session.
It hardly seemed like work to them.
"There is almost a goofiness around the team that keeps it loose and it makes it a whole lot easier for a guy to come in, especially at a young age, and feel comfortable. We're out here having a blast and it shows. It's fun to be here. Even the older guys are not very old."
-- Bobby Sanguinetti
One of the Hurricanes' former "old" guys who now boasts like a proud papa is Francis. He started his front office career in 2006 as the chief man in charge of the Hurricanes' player development, so he's had a relationship with all of the youngsters that have come through Carolina's system.
"It's great to see a kid like Sutter step in and do what he's doing and McBain step in and do what he's doing," Francis told NHL.com. "It's great to see these younger kids cracking the lineup and having an opportunity such as a kid like Bowman, who has worked so hard to get himself in this position."
Sutter was named an alternate captain last week along with Tim Gleason, who himself is only 27 years old.
"You look at our leadership on this team, we do have some guys in their 30s, but our captain is 25, our star goaltender (Cam Ward) is 26 and those guys are in the range where when these young guys develop our big guys are still only going to be 27 or 28," Francis said. "It will be a young team for a few years here."
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