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Staal calls Rangers 'great spot' right now

Forward couldn't pass up chance to play in New York

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- In the end, forward Eric Staal could not pass up the opportunity to play with his younger brother Marc Staal and contend for the Stanley Cup as a member of the New York Rangers.

Eric, the former Carolina Hurricanes captain who was traded to the Rangers on Sunday, made it known for quite some time New York was on the short list of teams he would accept a trade to ever since rumors surfaced that Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis might go in a different direction in his rebuild.

The decision wasn't easy, but Eric is grateful for a fresh start.

The Hurricanes and Rangers finalized the trade Sunday that sent the 31-year-old center to New York for a second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and the 2017 NHL Draft, and forward prospect Aleksi Saarela.

Staal, who spent his entire 12-year career with the Hurricanes, agreed to waive his no-trade clause, and Carolina agreed to retain half of Staal's $8.25 million NHL salary-cap charge.

Video: How does Eric Staal fit into the Rangers lineup?

Staal joined his new teammates at the morning skate Monday in preparation for the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SNE, SNO, FS-O, MSG). 

"I have a ton of emotion right now because I started my career in Carolina, won a Stanley Cup there (2006), but at the same time this is where I want to be and I was excited to get the opportunity to be here, and having my brother here is an extra benefit," Staal said. "But even if he wasn't here, this is still a great spot for me at this moment in my career."

The Rangers are sixth in the NHL with a 2.82 goals-per-game average but were in the market for another scoring forward, and Staal can play wing or center. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Staal will provide coach Alain Vigneault with the option of matching and neutralizing many of the bigger centers in the League. 

"I do envision him playing in the middle, but the fact that he can play the middle and the left side bodes well for our team; it's a big bonus," Vigneault said. "It gives me more options and we're definitely going to use those options moving forward."

Staal said he has been more effective as a center throughout this career but is willing to play wherever the staff believes he can help the Rangers.

"With the group of talented forwards they have here, I'll fit wherever they want me to fit and I'll make it work," Staal said. "I think with my skating and stride, being in the middle gets me up the ice a little more. I'm looking forward to playing with these guys."

Video: PHI@CAR: E. Staal bats home rebound to pad the lead

The thrill of competing for the Stanley Cup is something that has eluded Staal the past six seasons. His final postseason game with the Hurricanes was a 4-1 home loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2009 Eastern Conference Final. The Penguins won the series in four games. 

Staal had 19 goals, 10 power-play goals and 43 points in 43 playoff games for the Hurricanes. He replaced Rod Brind'Amour as captain Jan. 10, 2010.

"When you miss the playoffs for that long and you're the leader and captain, it's tough," Staal said. "There were a lot of trying times and for a lot of different reasons it just didn't go the way you envision when you wake up every day going to the rink. For me, I think it was time for this opportunity and this chance. I'm just excited for this, getting on the ice and playing my game."

Staal, a four-time NHL All-Star, has scored 30-plus goals five times. He leaves the Hurricanes as their leader in almost every statistical category, including games played (909), goals (332) and points (775). The two players in the history of the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes who have skated in more games than Staal have their jersey numbers retired at PNC Arena: Ron Francis and Glen Wesley.

"The core group [the Rangers] have in place, staring with [goaltender Henrik Lundqvist], is battle-tested and they've played in big games and in big moments," Staal said. "They haven't gotten it done yet, but they're very close. I believe they've got the will to achieve that goal. I just want to fit in with this group. I feel I know a lot of them playing against them over the years so I want to fit and help this team win regardless of where I'm put."

Staal gets an opportunity to play with the second-oldest Staal brother, defenseman Marc. Eric spent two-plus seasons in Carolina with third-oldest brother, center Jordan Staal. A fourth Staal brother, Jared Staal, is playing with South Carolina of the ECHL. He was in the Hurricanes organization.

Eric Staal said the game against the Blue Jackets on Monday will mark the first organized hockey game when he and Marc will play as teammates on any level.

"He wasn't going to come here if he didn't think we had that kind of team to make a deep run in the playoffs," Marc Staal said. "He's missed the playoffs the last six years and he's been hungry to get back in and I think he knows this is a good group. He's watched us and obviously he knows me and heard me talking about how badly we want to make a difference, make a deep run and win a Stanley Cup. I know he wants to be a part of that."

Marc Staal said their father, Henry, isn't too concerned seeing Eric in a new jersey. Henry and Linda Staal aren't in New York for the game but will be watching on television.

"Dad said it wasn't going to be as weird because he's seen me in a Rangers jersey so much that maybe it won't be as different seeing Eric in a Rangers jersey, so they're excited," Marc Staal said.

Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh is happy to have Eric Staal as a teammate.

"I've faced him many times and he's a tough player to play against in all areas, he's a big body and good defensively and has a knack for scoring goals around the net, which is something, going forward, is hard to come by," McDonagh said. "He'll fit into the room easier with his brother here."

Vigneault said the addition of Staal should certainly provide a jolt to the lineup. The Rangers have won four of the past five games.

"This is a strong belief on management's part to our players that we think we're a good team and we're trying to do everything we can to have the best shot possible," Vigneault said. "There's no doubt having Eric in the room is a big positive for our whole group.

"When you see what was happening around the League this weekend, like Chicago (trading for Andrew Ladd on Feb. 25), it was important to send a message to our group that we believe in them, we have the faith in them, and that's the message this trade makes."

Staal's numbers have been on the decline the past three seasons, but that was the likely result of the Hurricanes going through a rebuilding mode. Staal has 33 points in 63 games this season and is on pace for his lowest points-per-game average since his rookie season in 2003-04.

"I feel like I'm still a young guy," Staal said. "It goes fast. I was told that when I came into the League as an 18-year-old. But I feel like I have a lot of hockey life left in me and I'm just looking forward to playing with a very good team and fitting in with them, helping them win games."

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