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Eric Staal at third-line center in Canadiens debut against Oilers

Playing with Drouin, Toffoli, expected to see time on power play

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Eric Staal is making his debut for the Montreal Canadiens against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday (ESPN+, TSN2, RDS, SNW, NHL.TV).

"Obviously, just being here in this hockey city, it's got to excite you and give you that good nervous energy, and it felt really good to be on the ice with these guys," Staal said Monday. "Obviously, the first thing that jumps out is talent level and skill level. I think it's hard to gauge a lot else in a morning skate, but watching the guys a few of those games was real competitive, quick, aggressive, you know, all things you like to see out of good hockey teams. So I'm excited to get involved tonight and hopefully play a good game and just be another part to the group that's already here."

Staal was acquired by the Canadiens in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres for a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft on March 26. He arrived in Montreal on March 27 and began a mandatory seven-day quarantine. The center skated Sunday for the first time since the trade.

"I had some slight nerves, for sure, that's just the reality of the coming into a new situation, especially midstream, but they were great," Staal said of his first practice with his teammates. "Everybody's been phenomenal. This is an incredible organization and hockey market and I'm just excited to try to integrate and be myself and enjoy the experience. And enjoy the experience but enjoy it in a competitive way and be excited for challenges and opportunities ahead and bring what I can to help. But it's been nothing but positive so far and hopefully it just continues." 

Staal is playing center on the third line with Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Toffoli, and he will get some time on the power play.

"He's always in the right spots," Drouin said. "He's a veteran, you know, these aren't his first games in the NHL. I think it'll be easy to find him on the ice. He's a big player (6-foot-4, 195 pounds) who can go to the net, and he has good hands to finish plays. He's done that his whole career. He has a good wrist shot. I just have to play the same way as a playmaker and find him where he has an opportunity to score. If I can do that, I'm sure he'll be able put it in the back of the net."

Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme said Staal was preparing while he was quarantined.

"He participated in our video meetings and in watching our games he could see what we were doing," Ducharme said. "He also spent some time with (assistant) Alex Burrows during his quarantine looking at what we want to do. He'll keep things simple and he'll adjust in due time. A guy with that kind of experience and intelligence can adjust quickly."

Staal spoke with "NHL @ TheRink" podcast on Thursday and said he watched the Canadiens defeat the Oilers 4-0 on Tuesday from the Montreal condo where he is staying.

"It was fun watching them the other night, they played really well and beat the Oilers, played a great game," Staal said Thursday. "[I'll try to] pick up what I can as far as style and systems, and just be excited for when I get a chance to get in the lineup." independent correspondent Sean Farrell contributed to this report


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