NEW YORK -- It's not official just yet, but it's very likely Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal will be playing in the 2011 All-Star Game presented by Discover on Jan. 30.
He's tied for seventh in NHL goals with 18 and ranks in the top 20 in scoring with 38 points in 38 games. Throw in the fact that the All-Star Game will be played at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., and there's a better than average chance that not only will he be in the pool of 36 players chosen next Tuesday to join the six players selected by fans, but he could be one of the captains who will take part in the All-Star fantasy draft.
Staal received the 18th-most votes among forwards -- 142,634. It's an impressive total, but it's about 20,000 less votes than teammate Chad LaRose, who was a write-in candidate with 7 goals and 8 assists in 38 games.
Staal and the Hurricanes will invade Madison Square Garden to face the New York Rangers and younger brother Marc Staal on Wednesday night. Carolina is four points behind eighth place Montreal and six points back of the seventh-place Rangers.
Staal talked to the media Wednesday morning about the All-Star Game, who he'd take between one of his brothers and teammate Cam Ward, and just how LaRose got so many more votes than him.
Q: Four Penguins and two Blackhawks were voted in by the fans. Where were the Carolina Hurricane fans stuffing the ballot box for you?
Staal: Sometimes that's just the way it goes. They're big markets. They've got some good players. You can't go wrong with any of those names.
Q: Would playing in an All-Star Game in front of your fans be a big deal for you?
Staal: No question. I've been to a few All-Star Games where the home player gets a pretty good ovation. It would be a pretty neat experience for me personally to enjoy it with our fans and my family. I hope to be there and enjoy it with them.
Q: Would you want to be one of the captains who chooses sides for the game?
Staal: (Laughing) I wouldn't be against it. Obviously, no one really knows what to expect since they've never done it before. Whether that's the case or not, I'm going to enjoy the experience and the weekend together with family and also with guys I've competed with on a regular basis because that's what it's about.
Q: If you're are an All-Star captain and it happened to come down to choosing either Cam Ward or Marc Staal, who would you take?
Staal: (Laughing) Cam Ward, for sure. Marc Staal would be real near the bottom if he's in there, for sure. He'd be a first-timer so he'd be at the end, for sure.
Q: Has Chad LaRose reminded you he received more votes than you?
Staal: No, he hasn't reminded me. I think he was that good of an actor in those little commercials that we did. That was the difference for him.
Q: And he did it as a write-in guy.
Staal: That's very impressive. He must've done a phenomenal job in those ad campaigns to get himself to where he is. He's a good guy. He hasn't said anything yet. He's ahead of some pretty big names. It's pretty cool.
Jeff Skinner will likely be a part of the festivities. How much has he improved from the start of the season?
Staal: You can see the skill level, the compete level right away when he came in at training camp. It was just about adjusting. He's grown as the year's gone on and continued to work every practice and gotten better every game. You can see he's not only going to be a good player, he's going to be an elite player in this League. He's showing that already at 18.
Q: Does going up against Marc still feel like a big deal to you or have you done it so many times that it doesn't matter anymore?
Staal: It's still special. It's still an added an element, especially for me being here. I'll play against him most of the night. It's in his building and he matches up against me and all the tough centers. I'll be seeing a lot of him. He's a tough guy to play against. I got to make sure that I'm being physical on him and making it difficult on him because he plays a lot of minutes, a lot of situations. But it's fun every time I play him. We have good battles and love to compete against each other, and both hate to lose. We'll see what happens.
Q: Did you catch any of Jordan's season debut at the Winter Classic?
Staal: I saw a little bit of the highlights. I talked to my parents. They were there watching. It was a pretty neat story. He's had an extremely difficult last eight months. For him to be able to come back and it being that game it happened to be, he played well from what I heard. For someone that was off the ice for as long as he has, it's quite impressive. He's a big piece of that team and he's definitely going to help that lineup that's already doing pretty good already this year. He's excited to be back in the lineup and I'm happy for him.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo