D, Sudbury (OHL)/Hartford (AHL)
· Related story: Prospects at development camp
One year ago, the Rangers entered the 2005 NHL Entry Draft with the 16th overall selection, but when one of the players they expected to go early remained available through the top eight picks, the Blueshirts decided it was time to trade for a higher selection.
Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather and Vice President of Player Personnel and Assistant General Manager Don Maloney were eager to bring defenseman Marc Staal
to Madison Square Garden, so they dealt the 16th and 41st overall picks to the Atlanta Thrashers. That enabled them to draft the young defenseman with the 12th selection.
The second of four brothers dubbed the next "first family of hockey," Staal defines the sound, all-round defensive stalwart every team covets. Still growing at 6-foot-4, 202 pounds, he knows how to use his size in open space, and is very physical around the boards. While not a punishing hitter, Staal uses his body well and finishes his checks.
Staal arrived at the Rangers' 2006 Prospects Development Camp on the heels of a big month for his family. Older brother Eric won the Stanley Cup with Carolina on June 19, and five days later, younger brother Jordan was the No. 2 pick in the NHL Entry Draft.
"Especially in our hometown of Thunder Bay it has been very crazy. More so than anywhere else. It's fun though," Staal said of his family's success. "It's been a great year for the family, especially with the year Eric had, and now with Jordan."
Staal's ability to shut down the best offensive talents in the world is what elevates him above his peers, as was evidenced by his performance at the 2006 World Junior Championship tournament. Named the tournament's best defenseman, he lead Canada to the gold medal, and made a name for himself in his legendary performance against Russian star Evgeni Malkin.
"In the Eastern Conference you have Ovechkin and Crosby, and even Marc's brother Eric," explained Maloney. "You need to have someone who can shut those guys down, and he did exactly that to Malkin."
Going into the gold medal game, Malkin was plus-7 and led the tournament with 10 points in five games. Yet up against Staal, he was completely ineffective, hardly getting any offensive opportunities as Canada went on to a 5-0 victory.
"The world juniors were a great experience," said Staal. "Malkin is a really good player. Our team did a really good job on him, not just our pairing. We didn't give him much room to wind up. I did match up on him once or twice one-on-one so that was obviously a great experience."
The Best Defenseman Award was an honor that caught Staal by surprise.
"Being named Best Defenseman was awesome," he said. "It was something I didn't really expect. I didn't put up the numbers offensively, so it was nice to be recognized for my play in the defensive area. I was really happy with it."
Blanketing the opposing team's best players is something the captain of the Sudbury Wolves has been doing for years in the OHL. Voted the team's MVP, Staal also ranked second in the league amongst defenseman.
"My first year with Sudbury I was trying to learn the league and play solid. But the more experience you get, the more you want to improve in every area," Staal said. "My offensive game was certainly an area I wanted to get better at, and I think my numbers last year show that improvement. I have always been more of a stay-at-home defenseman."
Staal ended the 2005-06 season plus-12, and was voted to the Eastern Conference All-Star squad. The Thunder Bay, Ontario, native continued his stellar play when he was called up to Hartford to end the season, helping them advance to the second round in the Calder Cup playoffs while adding two assists.
"It took me four or five games to get adjusted to playing in Hartford, especially coming in for the playoffs," said Staal. "The intensity was just that much more. But it was definitely a good experience and will help me prepare for the next level."
A few months after turning 19, Staal joined Hartford for the Wolf Pack's 2006 AHL playoff run.
In addition to his skill at covering opponents, Staal is one of the best defensive prospects to come along in years with regard to pure hockey skill. In 2005, he won the puck-control competition at the CHL Top Prospects Game, an award that almost always goes to forwards. Both strong and mobile with the puck, he has superb vision allowing him to make that key first pass out of the zone. He can make every pass with pinpoint accuracy and is able to spring his wingers for breakaways seemingly at will.
"Marc is very business like. He's always in good position and he doesn't get rattled," said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. "He certainly uses a very good stick along with good body position vs. one-on-one or all types of attack, for that matter. He's got good transition skills in that he can step up from backing out and make a very good pass. He follows the play up well. This is a guy who once he starts to play in the NHL he'll be there for a long time."
Staal has worked hard to improve his offensive game. While he enjoys pinching up in the offensive zone and has a heavy shot, he didn't put up overly impressive numbers early in his career. But this year with Sudbury he tallied 11 goals and 38 assists for 49 points, finishing fourth on the team in points. In comparison, he tallied seven goals and 33 assists for 40 points in his first two years combined.
"I still want to get stronger, more responsible, and get faster," Staal said of his game. " I know a lot of fans are rooting for me, and are expecting me to be up here, so I am going to do my best to make it hard for the coaching staff to send me back to Sudbury."
The biggest question with Staal is not if, but rather when he will arrive in the Big Apple.
"With some prospects, you don't know if they are going to be a player at the NHL level because it all depends on their maturity," Maloney said. "With Marc, there's no doubt he is going to be an NHL defenseman. It is just a matter if he is going to be a top two or a top four defenseman, and if it comes together sooner rather than later."
-- Ricky Henne
|MARC STAAL - 2005-06 STATISTICS |
|D ||Sudbury (OHL regular season) ||57 ||11 ||38 ||49 ||60 ||6 ||0 ||5 |
| ||Sudbury (OHL playoffs) ||10 ||0 ||8 ||8 ||8 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
| ||Hartford (AHL playoffs) ||12 ||0 ||2 ||2 ||8 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
| ||2006 World Junior Championships ||6 ||0 ||1 ||1 ||4 ||0 ||0 ||0 |