By Robert Picarello
The Rangers got their first look at their top pick from this year's Entry Draft at the team's Prospect Development Camp in Tarrytown, NY and it's safe to say that the organization liked the way Marc Staal
looked in red, white and blue.
"I've really been impressed with Marc," Rangers Asst. General Manager/VP of Player Personnel Don Maloney
said. "What you see now from Marc and what you're gonna see in two or three years is going to be a bigger improved version. He has great instincts on the ice. He's a big, rangy player who's gonna fill out. He'll be 220-225 pounds with range, but more so, I just like his instincts on the ice. He knows where to go, when to jump, when to close off a gap, and how and when to move a puck. I think he has tremendous hockey instincts and we're excited to have him."
Rangers Head Coach and Vice President of Player Development Tom Renney
also liked what he saw in Staal, whose older brother Eric was also drafted in the first round by Carolina a few years back. But, the Rangers bench boss didn't need the camp to know the type of player the team was getting when New York traded up for the 12th overall pick in last month's Entry Draft in Ottawa to nab the 6-foot-3, 196-pound defenseman.
"I saw him about eight times this year," Renney said. "Earlier in the year I thought he was OK. Obviously with the bloodline you kind of watch him and you try not to compare him to more accomplished siblings. I thought he was going to be a good pick, but I wasn't sure if he was going to be a first-rounder. As time went on, you saw the progression as his coach (Mike Foligno of the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League) went to him more and more and gave him more responsibility and obviously Marc rose to the challenge and accepted that. He performed well."
Just like he did during his first on-ice sessions for the Rangers this week.
"He's got a real presence on the ice with his size and mobility and range. He looks like he understands the game well," Renney said. "He positions himself well. He's an efficient, economical guy, but he knows when to dig in and assert himself physically to get to loose pucks. He's just young and he's got strength to gain and he's just got to keep playing and put himself in situations where he's has to make choices that will challenge him."
One challenge the 18-year old probably won't have to face is making the Rangers opening night roster. Unlike his brother Eric, who is one of the few players who have been able to successfully make the jump from junior hockey right to the NHL, Marc won't be taking that leap. Right now the plan is for the young blueliner to go back to Sudbury and work on improving his skills some more.
"We look at a guy like Marc as being in a real good position to continue his growth regardless if he's got a New York Ranger training manual in his hand or not," Renney said.
If the Thunder Bay, Ontario native keeps progressing and impressing the way he has been for the last year, he'll join his brother Eric in the show in no time. "I haven't looked that far ahead as far as making to the NHL," Staal admitted. "I'm going to play it as it goes and go to training camp maybe this year and just measure myself against guys and we'll see how that goes down the road."
"The big thing was to get him in here with his peer group and (have him) recognize that this is how the Rangers operate, this is our practice facility, get to know our coaches and our coaching staff and understand the group that he's going to grow up with," Renney explained.
Judging from the way he performed on the ice and the smile he had on his face, it's safe to say that Staal enjoyed his first experience in New York, even though he had to cut his stay short because he had committed to attend Canada's world junior team training camp.
"This has been a really fun camp," Staal said. "They teach you a lot about having quick feet and a lot of quick movements - stuff that will definitely help us down the road. Speed is probably the biggest thing. They're really concentrating on developing you as a player, so that really helps and has made it exciting."
Not as electrifying as it's going to be when Staal officially cracks the Rangers lineup and puts on the red, white and blue sweater for good. "Any time a team is young like this and you have an opportunity to make an impact, it's exciting."