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Five Questions With...

Eric Staal getting comfortable with Rangers

Deadline acquisition looks forward to playing with Nash, chasing Cup

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features New York Rangers center Eric Staal:

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is trying to imagine the matchup dilemma he'd create for the opposing coach by putting Eric Staal and Rick Nash on the same line once Nash is back healthy and playing.

There's a combined 12 feet, 8 inches and 425 pounds of experience, skill and physicality between Staal (6-4, 205) and Nash (6-4, 220). There's a combined 713 goals, 1,507 points and 1,820 games between the two 31-year-old forwards.

It's certainly an intriguing and enticing option for Vigneault.

"It is something that I am juggling with right now in my mind," Vigneault said. "I could use [Nash] with Eric. That could make it more challenging for the opposition as far as who they're going to try to match up against. Once we get everybody in the same room, everybody playing, we'll figure it out."

Nash will miss his 20th consecutive game with a bone bruise in his left leg when the Rangers play at the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, BELL TV, MSG-B, NHL.TV). He's skating and hopes to play soon. 

Video: NYI@NYR: Staal nets his first goal as a Ranger

Staal will be playing in his fifth game with the Rangers since being acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 28. His most recent, a 6-4 loss against the New York Islanders on Sunday, was his best with his new team.

Staal got his first two points (goal, assist) with the Rangers, won an astounding 20 of 22 faceoffs and had four shots on goal and seven total shot attempts. Vigneault credited his line, with wings Oscar Lindberg and Viktor Stalberg, as the only good line for the Rangers in the game.

It was the type of game that reminded you why the Rangers sought out Staal prior to the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline and why they think he's the missing piece to complete what they think could and maybe should be a Stanley Cup championship puzzle.

"And I think as we move forward here it's only going to get better," Vigneault said. "I mean, big body, we needed that. We needed that at both ends of the rink as far as being able to protect the puck and get the puck back quicker. As he gets used to his linemates, once we sort that part out also, he'll be real effective for us."

Staal spoke to about what it has been like for him in the week-plus since his life was turned upside down with a trade from the only franchise he had known since the Hurricanes took him with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft. He even brought up Nash.

Here are Five Questions with … Eric Staal:

"I'm starting to, no question. I feel comfortable. It felt different putting the jersey on the first time, but definitely every time I put it on I feel more comfortable and more a part of this group every day and that's exciting for me. These guys have been extremely welcoming and want me to fit in, want me to feel as part of the group as anyone else, which is awesome and what you want as a guy coming in. I feel like a Ranger, no question."

How do you know if you're getting comfortable? What are the keys, the signs for you?

"One, it's familiarity just with how things are done in the room, in meetings, preparation. That's certainly No. 1. So I've got some games under my belt with that. The second is on the ice, getting a comfort with the guys, how they play, how the team plays system-wise and defensively. For me, I'm starting to feel more comfortable in my own end, which is the biggest thing. You start there first because you don't want to be a hazard giving up things every time you're on the ice. You want to make sure you're trusted to be on the ice in every situation. I think I'm getting better in that area. From there it's about trying to generate some more offense, chances, and get better in that area too. It's gotten better every game, which is good. Hopefully it'll keep building."

You went from being on a team that year after year after year was looking up, trying to climb the standings, and you were wearing the "C." Now you're here, no letter on your sweater, and you can look down the standings finally. Are you more relaxed because of it?

"I just think the confidence and swagger, you need that in this game, and from Day 1, I just felt that with this team. My first game here we didn't have a very good game, but we won 2-1. I could still just feel it. You feel good about the group we have. We're going to be a team that will be competitive against everybody every night and we can get the win. Not to say we didn't have that in Carolina at times, but it's a younger group and it's just different. There's a lot of guys experiencing things for the first time and you don't have that same confidence. Confidence is so big in sports, in this game, and you feel that coming in here. So then it's about making sure you're prepared and executing. It's been fun to be on that side of it."

When you got to New York, Vigneault immediately said that he envisions you as a center. How did you feel about that?

"I told him that I think I'm better there, but I can do either. Like I've said to him, this team has got good enough players to where I'll be able to fit and contribute regardless of where I am in the lineup. Once [Nash] comes back it'll change up our lines a little bit and tweak some things, but I'm comfortable being wherever. I think teams that go all the way and get it done have a strong balance throughout their lineup and have contributions from different guys. Regardless of where I'll end up, I'll be able to contribute and be fine. But right now it's been good getting comfortable in my own end first and playing center and getting better in that aspect, but if he moved me to the wing I'd be just as fine there."

What was your family's reaction to all this, to being traded after more than a decade in one spot? Can you prepare for it? I'd imagine your three kids can't do that.

"You do prepare. I mean, throughout the whole year we were aware that this could happen right up until it did happen, but you're never fully prepared until it actually happens. I've heard that before, but actually experiencing it, it's very true. You think you're prepared, but when it actually happens there's a ton of emotion that goes through you. It was tough, but at the same time exciting that I got this chance with this great team and I'm trying to take full advantage."

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