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Staal enjoying road to 1,000 points for Wild

Center faces Blackhawks one away from becoming 89th NHL player to reach milestone

by Jessi Pierce / Independent Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Eric Staal remembers his first NHL point. He, like most, never anticipated 998 more to follow.

"My first point was a goal [Oct. 23, 2003]," Staal said. "It was against [the Boston Bruins], 2-on-1. It was a great pass by Jeff O'Neill and we pretty much had the goalie down and out. I was able to just fire it on net, pretty much an empty net. It's a great memory to have, and something that I'll never forget."

The center is one point from becoming the 89th player to get 1,000 in the NHL, something he could achieve when the Minnesota Wild visit the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, NBCSCH, FS-N, FS-WI, NHL.TV). 

"The years go quickly, time goes by, but I've enjoyed every minute I've played and every point that I've contributed to my teams," said Staal, who has skated in 1,207 games, fifth-most among active NHL players. "At the end of the day, I'm just trying to help my teams win." 

Since signing a three-year contract with the Wild as a free agent July 1, 2016, the 35-year-old has 218 points (103 goals, 115 assists) in 278 games, including 42 goals and 76 points in 2017-18. He has 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 33 games this season and six points (three goals, three assists) in his past five games. 

Video: PHI@MIN: Staal scores his second goal on power play

"He's awesome," Wild forward Jason Zucker said. "He's a guy who's been a lot of fun to play with the past couple of years. Being on a line with him, you learn a lot playing with a guy like that. When you think of what 1,000 points is, that's pretty insane. It's awesome for him. It's a lot of fun to be a part of it right now. We're excited for it. It's just fun to play with the guy. He's an awesome guy in the locker room, he's had an unbelievable career and it's just another milestone." 

Chosen by the Carolina Hurricanes with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, Staal has scored 428 goals, fourth in the NHL since 2003-04 with his 3,799 shots on goal second behind Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (5,390) during that span. He had 775 points (322 goals, 453 assists) in 909 games for the Hurricanes, including NHL career-highs of 45 goals, 55 assists and 100 points in 2005-06 to help them win the Stanley Cup. He was captain for six seasons before he was traded to the New York Rangers on Feb. 28, 2016 for forward Aleksi Saarela and second-round draft picks in 2016 and 2017. 

Staal is fifth among active NHL players with 999 points (428 goals, 571 assists) and has no plans of slowing down after reaching the 1,000-point milestone.

"You don't ever think of it," Staal said. "You go day by day. You always strive to be the best you can be every day and every game that you play. It's pretty surreal to play as many games as I have and been around as long as I have. I'm grateful every day I get to play and be here with these guys and enjoy it because it goes quickly, and hopefully I have a little time left."

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