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Eric Staal: Day One to Game 1,000

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Of Eric Staal's now 1,000-plus games in the National Hockey League, 909 of them were played wearing a Carolina Hurricanes sweater.

For many years, Staal was the face of the franchise, a leader both on and off the ice and a valuable member of the community. With his former team in town on Tuesday, his new team will honor him for his 1,000 games played milestone in a pregame ceremony.

With some help from former teammates, coaches and more, here's a journey back through Staal's career, from day one to game No. 1,000.

June 21, 2003: Canes Select Staal 2nd Overall in 2003 NHL Entry Draft

With the second overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft in Nashville, the Hurricanes called Staal's name.

Jordan Staal: "I remember Nashville being a really fun city. Even as a young kid it was fun. We had a good time. It was a big deal. It was the NHL. To be honest, it was kind of a bit surprising. I just never really realized how it all works when you go through the works. I was still maybe 14 years old or something like that. I didn't really realize the spot he was in and how well he was doing. That gave me the first jolt of he's the real deal and he's going to make it and play in the NHL. That was a really cool moment."

October 9, 2003: Staal Makes NHL Debut in Florida

Not even four months after donning the Canes' crest onstage at the then Gaylord Entertainment Center, Staal made his NHL debut for the Hurricanes in Florida. Carolina dropped a 3-1 decision to the Panthers. Staal had two shots on goal and was 1-for-4 in the faceoff circle in 17:36 of ice time.

Rod Brind'Amour: "You could tell right away there was something special about him, just in the way he could play. He cared about what he was doing and was perfect for this group and community. He fit right in. He went through some tough times. There are some challenging times when you're the leader of a team; you try to do too much sometimes, and it's tough. It meant a lot to him to be successful here and it also hurt when it wasn't, and that's because he cared so much. He's grown so much now, and I love to see that he's having success on a team there that's got a good chance to win. I'm happy for him that he got that opportunity."

October 23, 2003: Staal Scores First NHL Goal in Boston

In his sixth game of his career, Staal and O'Neill raced into the zone on a 2-on-1. O'Neill sold the shot, getting goaltender Andrew Raycroft to bite before sliding a pass over to Staal, who took one look at the net and finished for his first NHL goal and point. The marker would end up being the difference in a 2-0 Canes win, their first of the season.

October 28, 2005: Staal Records First Hat Trick

In a wild, back-and-forth 8-6 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, Staal recorded his first career hat trick and earned first star honors.

April 15, 2006: Staal Caps Career Season

Staal tallied points 99 and 100, both assists, in the Canes' penultimate game in the 2005-06 season, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Staal's second NHL season was a career year for the young forward, as he recorded 45 goals, 55 assists and 100 points, all of which remain career highs. 40 percent of Staal's points, including 19 goals, came on the power play in 2005-06.

Brind'Amour: "We had such a great team that we didn't really have one player. He just melted in with the rest. Nobody could key on anybody, so it wasn't like he got the best match-ups. He played against third pairs, and it was just a great team to be a part of. The system we had in place really suited his offensive style. Just go play. It fit him really well and all the guys really well who were here. Especially for a young kid, that really benefitted him. The atmosphere we had in here really fostered a culture where young kids could be successful."

April 26, 2006: Staal Scores OT Winner in Game 3

After dropping the first two games of the first round at home, the Hurricanes went to Montreal desperate for a victory. On a power play in overtime, Staal faked a shot from the point before laying the puck off to Stillman. He went cross-ice to Hedican, who dished it back to Staal for the one-time goal. "She's a series now!" John Forslund proclaimed, as the Canes took a 2-1 win in Game 3.

The Hurricanes would go on to win the next three to claim the series in six games.

June 19, 2006: Staal, Hurricanes Win Stanley Cup

After scoring at a torrid pace in the regular season, Staal's offensive output didn't slow in the playoffs. The sophomore forward ripped off 28 points (9g, 19a) in 25 games, as he helped the Carolina franchise capture its first Stanley Cup championship.

January 27, 2008: Staal Named All-Star Game MVP

The 56th NHL All-Star Game pitted the West against the East in Atlanta. Staal scored the first goal of the game for the Eastern Conference and tallied the game-tying goal in the third period. He also assisted on Marc Savard's game-winning goal scored with 21 seconds left in regulation. His three-point performance earned him MVP honors.

September 11, 2008: Staal Signs Seven-Year Contract Extension

The Hurricanes inked their cornerstone player to a seven-year contract extension that would run from the 2009-10 season through the 2015-16 season before the 2008-09 campaign began.

Eric: "When I signed and was there, I envisioned being there forever. I think that's what you always envision as a player. It doesn't always work out that way, and it didn't for me either."

March 7, 2009: Staal Tallies Four Goals, Six Points in Tampa Bay

The Hurricanes' offense popped off four nine goals in a 9-3 rout of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Staal had four of his team's goals, a first in Canes history (since 1997) and just the third time in franchise history that feat had been accomplished. Staal added two assists for a six-point night, setting a Hurricanes team record and tying a franchise record.

April 7, 2009: Staal Posts Fourth Hat Trick of Season

The Hurricanes' offense wasn't done. They dropped a nine-spot again just a month later, this time in a 9-0 shutout of the New York Islanders. Staal set a new franchise record tallying his fourth hat trick of the season.

April 28, 2009: The Shock at the Rock

Hurricanes. Devils. Game 7. In New Jersey. With 80 seconds remaining in regulation, the Canes trailed 3-2. Then, Jussi Jokinen tied it. But wait, there's more. With just 32 seconds left, Staal rushed in along the right wing, fired off a quick wrister and beat Martin Brodeur to put the Canes on top, 4-3, and send them to the second round of the playoffs.

January 20, 2010: Staal Named Hurricanes Captain

Staal became the fifth Hurricanes captain and the 13th player to serve in that role in franchise history.

Jeff Skinner: "As a young player, sometimes you learn things from older players without even noticing. You just watch how they act, watch how they prepare. You learn in in-game situations. They've experienced a lot more and can tell you what things work for them. For me, just watching how he prepared himself and handled himself in different situations. As I get older, it's almost like you continue to learn from him because I can recognize a situation that may happen to me now or in the future and I may remember how Staalsy dealt with it or acted in that situation. That's the kind of impact those guys have. Not many players have that big of an impact on players and certainly not on my career personally."

February 28, 2016: Staal Traded to New York

With the trade deadline approaching, the Hurricanes dealt their longtime captain to the New York Rangers in exchange for forward prospect Aleksi Saarela and two second round draft picks.

Brind'Amour: "I knew he was going through tough times there when we were struggling. When you're the leader of a team, there's a lot of pressure. I can relate. More than anything, [I] was a sounding board for him and telling him that he was going to get through it. Good people find a way to make things happen, and that's what's happening now."

Ron Francis: "Any time you trade a guy who is the face of your franchise, who has been here a long time and done a lot of good things for the organization on the ice and in the community, it's never an easy day. … He was a real pro about it. Unfortunately it's the crappy part of our business when stuff like this happens."

March 31, 2016: Staal Returns to Raleigh with the Rangers

A month after the trade, Staal made his return. The Hurricanes honored him with a "Thank You Eric" collage on the wall leading to the visitors' dressing room and an in-game video tribute.

Eric: "You don't really know how you're going to react or feel or what your emotions will be until you really experience it. It's going to be a lot of different, unique emotions just in general because of being there for so long, playing in that building as the home team. ... I'm not sure what I'll be feeling, to be honest."

Video: Thank You, Eric!

July 1, 2016: Staal Signs with Minnesota

For the first time after 12 seasons in the NHL, Staal was an unrestricted free agent. He signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract with the Wild on the opening day of free agency.

Eric: "It's been great to join this group. We've got a great, experienced, good hockey team, and I knew that before I came here. It was about finding the right fit last summer, and I was hoping it would be Minnesota because of what I thought I could help bring. Fortunately for me, these guys here were excited to have me and were really welcoming with open arms. It's been a great transition for me and for my family just to jump on board and learn as the year has gone on."

Jordan: "He's just a good player. He's hard to defend and a tough player to play against. I'm a lot more comfortable with him on my team than against. He's just a smart player who knows how to read the game and find offense when there's maybe not much cooking. At the same time, he plays hard and defends well. He's kind of got both sides of the puck figured out."

Brind'Amour: "He had a tough time in New York, too. It wasn't pretty. I'm just happy that he has this opportunity. He's on a good team where he doesn't have to be the superstar. He can just go play and there's not as much expected of him. That's the perfect environment."

March 16, 2017: Staal Returns to Raleigh Again

Nearly a year after his first appearance at PNC Arena in the opposition's sweater, Staal made his second return to Raleigh, a game the Hurricanes won 3-1.

Eric: "For as long as I was here, it's got to be the people. You develop friendships away from the game through other sports, schools and neighbors. It's the people you miss. I've tried to stay in touch, but as they know and everyone knows, the NHL season is pretty busy this year."

Skinner: "He can still fly. He's having a good year in Minnesota. He's not showing signs of slowing down. Good thing for us is that he's in the West."

March 19, 2017: Staal Plays 1,000th NHL Game

Two games after returning to Raleigh, Staal skated in his 1,000th career game in Winnipeg with a former face in head coach Paul Maurice behind the opposite bench.

Bill Peters: "That's a great accomplishment for any player, and he should be proud of that accomplishment. … That's a big number. You look at those 1,000 games, there's quality and quantity. He's done a lot in the game, and it talks to how good the player is, his ability to stay healthy and the perseverance. It's a great career with no end in sight, really. He's still young."

Jordan: "He's obviously one of the best players in the league. … He's got such a good stride and is a smart hockey player. I'm not sure how long he can play, but I'm sure he'll play until they boot him out of here."

Brind'Amour: "Longevity really has a lot to do with just how well you take care of yourself and the commitment you make in the offseason. I think now he's realized that. I don't know if he did as much when he was younger. Now he's starting to see the benefits of year-round training and staying on top of your game, especially at the age now - you don't get better; you just try to hang on to what you have."

April 4, 2017: Staal to be Honored for 1,000th Game with Pregame Ceremony

The Wild opted to wait to honor Staal for his games played milestone until his former team made their first and only appearance of the season in St. Paul, a terrific gesture by Minnesota. In a sense, it brings closure to another chapter of Staal's post-Hurricanes career.

Skinner: "He's meant a lot. Whenever you come into the league, there are guys who you grew up watching, and all of a sudden they are your teammates. For me, he was one of those guys. He's an All-Star, an Olympian, someone I grew up watching and was a big fan of. When I came into the league, he was a big role model to me. As a young player, you try to figure out a lot of stuff as you go along. Just being able to watch him and how we went about his business was a big benefit for me in my career."

Brind'Amour: "He's a great player. For me, he's a friend. He was a great teammate. It was enjoyable for me to watch him grow coming in as a kid and have a lot of real big impact for us. He had some good times and some tough times, too, and he always handled it with a lot of class. That's what I remember of Eric Staal: a great person, and I was real fortunate to have a lot of years with him."

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