Eric Staal said he's unsure how exactly he'll react on Thursday when he returns to Carolina to face the Hurricanes, the organization he spent parts of the first 12 seasons of his NHL career with before he was moved to New York at last month's trade deadline.
"I guess there are certain situations and things that happen as a player that you don't know how you'll react ... or how your emotions will be until you experience it," Staal told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. He added that there will be a lot of "unique" feelings because of how much time he spent there.
Staal, who scored both Rangers goals in a 3-2 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday, is already back in Raleigh, spending time with his wife and three sons before Thursday's matchup. He said his parents will be in town for the game, which of course will also feature brother and teammate Marc, as well as Carolina forward Jordan.
The 31-year-old said it's been an adjustment both on and off the ice since the Feb. 29 trade sent him to New York for two second-round picks and a prospect, but that slowly but surely, things are feeling normal.
"Every day and every game, I'm feeling more comfortable and more confident," Staal said. "The guys, the staff have all been great and welcomed me with open arms."
The biggest adjustment has been being away from his family, which was part of the reason he returned to Carolina Monday, rather than Wednesday with the team.
"It's been tough," Staal said of the affect the trade has had on his family, especially his boys, ages six, four and one. "I moved right away after the trade. Fortunately, we all left together. They got to experience the first game with me" before they returned home. He added his family will be returning to New York on Friday.
Not all adjustments have been difficult, though. For the first time since 2009, Eric is expecting to take part in the Stanley Cup playoffs. While the Rangers have not clinched just yet, Staal is already excited about the atmosphere of a Game 1 in a Rangers' jersey.
"It's why you play," Staal said of being on a team in a playoff run ."It's why I wanted to be in the NHL and it's why you want to compete every year. You want to be in the playoffs. We're not there yet but we're very close.
"I think it'll be a whole other ballgame when I get out there for warmups in Game 1 of a playoff series," Staal added, before stating that it had been "way too long" since he felt that.
Staal has 19 goals and 24 assists for 43 points in 43 playoff games.
The forward, who has been used at both center and on the wing by head coach Alain Vigneault, said he likes the makeup of his new squad, and that it'll be a tough team for any opponent to matchup with when the playoffs get rolling in about two weeks.
"I knew they were a good team before I got there and I still feel anybody that we play against, we are a team that can win," Staal said. "I feel we have great balance in our lineup, from goaltending to defense to the forward lines, we're competitive. We're a team that can throw four lines at you and be difference makers, and that's what you want in the playoffs."
For now, though, the focus is on Carolina and the Hurricanes Thursday night. Staal said it was too early for him to reflect on his time in Carolina, other than to state that he's proud of what he and his teams accomplished over the years, including a Stanley Cup in 2006.
Staal is a Ranger now, and he's excited for another run in the spring.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity to join a great team that's in a great spot."