GREENBURGH, N.Y. --
Rangers defenseman Marc Staal
finally has been given the green light to make the red light glow.
After two NHL seasons and a philosophical change behind the bench from Tom Renney to John Tortorella, Staal is adding the touch of offense to his game that all the scouts figured would be a part of his NHL repertoire.
"He's got all the tools," Tortorella said, "and we're going to try to push more to see what level he can get to."
Staal averaged 30 points a season with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL from 2003-07, but had just 25 points through his first two NHL seasons while playing in the defensive system Renney prefers.
He has 2 points in his first six games, but last season it took him 13 games to record that many. He's also being rewarded with 1:45 per game on the power play, time he barely sniffed under Renney. He leads the Rangers in time on ice per game at 23:13.
"My first couple of years, when I tried to think about playing offense and taking a chance, my defensive game would go downhill," Staal, who is in his third season, told NHL.com. "Now it is better. I can pick my spots. I'm smarter in that way. But it's getting the experience joining the rush that will serve me well. I'm already on the power play and that's key to learning and getting better at it. You can only learn so much by watching."
Tortorella told Staal and the media who cover the Rangers the day he was hired that he wanted his defensemen to join the rush and take some chances. For Staal, that opened a door that previously had been closed.
Staal had just 10 points as a rookie while averaging only 20 seconds of ice time per game on the power play. He had 15 points last season, averaging just 31 seconds on the power play per game.
"It'll take more time this year to get better and better, but I think I will just because of that green light to try things," Staal said. "My offense is bound to get better than it is now, I just don't know how far I can go with it."
Tortorella doesn't either because he sees limitless potential in Staal -- provided the 22-year-old blueliner finds his offense and adds "some jam" to his game.
Staal uses his big body (6-foot-4, 209 pounds) well, but the coach would like to see him have a bit more bite, especially in the dirty areas, like the corners and in front of the net.
"I have always tried to play physical, but it's something I have to concentrate on. A lot of times I like going for the puck, fishing for it and stripping them of it before I'll take the body."
-- Marc Staal
"That's the next step for him," Tortorella said. "He has a tremendously bright future but he can't stop trying to develop. I'd just like to see a little bit more jam in his game, for him to be harder to play against."
"I have always tried to play physical, but it's something I have to concentrate on," Staal said. "A lot of times I like going for the puck, fishing for it and stripping them of it before I'll take the body. On certain guys I think he wants me to be harder on."
The offense, though, is the key ingredient because you can't be a one-dimensional defenseman in Tortorella's attacking system.
Experience and opportunity, both of which Staal didn't have while Renney was coach, allows him to believe he can turn into the complete, two-way defenseman the Rangers figured they would get when they selected him with the 12th pick of the 2005 Entry Draft.
"I have always had a conscious awareness of what would happen if this doesn't work, so it holds you back a little bit," Staal said. "Now, this year when the opportunity is there to jump in, I have less of that because it's more about trying to get that opportunity to score. You can only get better offensively once you get the opportunity."
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