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Training Camp

Eric Staal looking to fit in with Wild

Veteran center hopes to contribute offensively after scoring 13 goals last season

by Jessi Pierce / Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Center Eric Staal put on a red sweater similar to the one he wore for 11-plus seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, but a little bit deeper in color, before making his preseason debut with the Minnesota Wild against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.

"The deep red felt really good," Staal said. "[Xcel Energy Center] is a great building to play hockey in, and this is a great organization. I'm excited to kind of get it started. We'll get through training camp and the real deal will feel great."

Staal, 31, agreed to terms on a three-year, $10.5 million contract with the Wild on July 1. He has 781 points (325 goals, 456 assists) in 929 NHL games, and has more goals (322), assists (453) and points (775) for the Hurricanes than anyone. His 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists) led the League during the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2006, when Carolina won the Stanley Cup.

But Staal's production has declined in recent seasons. He went from averaging 70-plus points per season from 2004-12, to 54 in 2014-15. He was traded to the New York Rangers on Feb. 28 and finished the regular season with a combined 13 goals and 39 points, his lowest totals since his rookie season of 2003-04 (11 goals, 31 points).

Staal said he understands the concerns surrounding his offense heading into this season.

Video: Eric Staal: Training Camp Day One

"I think you're always trying to prove yourself in this league, especially when you're joining a new team," Staal said. "[This season] it's just about fitting in. This is already a great team. For me [it's about] just meshing with some of the great players they already have up front and being a contributor offensively, and scoring as much as I can and being counted on night in and night out, and winning games.

"It's about winning at the end of the day, and it's fun to be a part of this group. I'm really just looking forward to getting to know everybody better and getting the season started, and getting off on the right foot and go from there."

The Wild's 4-1 loss to the Avalanche on Tuesday was the first indicator of where Staal might fit in. He played on a line with Jason Zucker and Jason Pominville.

"It felt good," Pominville said. "We had some looks, we moved the puck and had some opportunities. Unfortunately [we] weren't able to put any away, and I think in this type of game, our line would have had to find a way to put one away to get in the game. Unfortunately we weren't able to do it."

Staal was a minus-2 with two shots on goal, and 12-for-17 on faceoffs, in 19:25 of ice time. He said it was good to get the first game out of the way but there is plenty to work on before the Wild begin the regular season at the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 13.

"There [were] moments for everybody that we can get better at," Staal said. "I think for the most part guys are trying to be in the right spots, but I think there are areas we can improve, and I'm sure [coach] Bruce [Boudreau] will do some tape watching and help guys to get better in some of those system areas as we move forward.

"We'll continue to work at improving and be ready for when it counts for real. I know I'm going to enjoy my time playing in front of these fans for sure."

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