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Staal's NHL journey a family affair

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
The journey from youth hockey to the NHL is a long one. Only a tiny fraction of kids who start out with dreams of playing at the game's highest level actually get there. Each of the roughly 700 current NHL players has his own, unique story about the road to hockey's top league, and for Rangers fans, none are more interesting than those involving current Blueshirts.

Road to the Rangers on, takes readers back in time, giving them a sense of what players went through to make it. Hear the player's story in his own words, in his own voice, as he looks back at all the years leading up to his first NHL game. Get a feel for each player's personality as he talks about unpublicized moments that helped him realize the dream of every young hockey player.

Girardi | Callahan | Boyle

Marc Staal Marc Staal
A select handful of last names are synonymous with hockey history because they have been so well represented by multiple members of the same family.

They are names like Patrick, Howe, Hull, Esposito, and Sutter.

Today's NHL generation is making a big contribution to that prestigious list. With three brothers already starring in the NHL, including an outstanding Rangers defenseman who turned 23 on Wednesday, the Staal family of Thunder Bay, Ontario, is ensuring its legacy will be remembered by hockey fans long after the the brothers' playing days are over.

Marc StaalMarc Staal, the second-oldest of the three NHL Staals, didn't need his now-famous last name to turn heads in the NHL and become the defensive mainstay known to Rangers fans. By the time his draft year came around in 2005, he was the ranked No. 9 in both the Central Scouting and Hockey News draft previews. Among defenseman, only Jack Johnson, who would end up going No. 3 overall to Carolina, was consistently ranked ahead of Staal.

Rangers scouts were very high on Staal as the 2005 draft approached. Just a few days after the NHL lockout was resolved, Staal and those scouts all found themsevles at a hotel conference room in Ottawa for the hastily-arranged July 30 event.

Unfortunately, the Blueshirts had only the 16th pick in the draft and expected Staal to be long gone by then. So when he incredibly slipped out of the top 10, with defensemen Johnson, Brian Lee and Luc Bourdon all going ahead of him, the Rangers knew they had to act.

To get Staal, the Rangers sent their own first-rounder and a second-round pick to Atlanta in exchange for the Thrashers' No. 12 overall selection -- a gain of four spots in the first round. It would turn out to be one of the most important draft-day moves in Blueshirts history.

So much has happened to Staal in the nearly five years since he was drafted. There have been two World Junior Championship gold medals, two standout performances at the NHL All-Star Weekend'sYoungStars Game and an invitation to attend Canada's pre-Olympic camp last summer.

Reading a very prophetic Central Scouting report from 2005, you could almost see it coming.

"A very good skater with a long stride and moves well laterally," the report read. "... Shows patience with the puck; when he does not have a play he will circle back and wait until an option opens up. ... Makes good outlet passes to open teammates. ... Has a good shot. ... When he is angling approaching forwards well, he seldome allows himself to get turned to the outside. ... Tough along the boards ... uses his size well in front and will not back down in confrontations."

Like older brother Eric and younger brother Jordan, Staal's route from his family's backyard rink in Thunder Bay to the NHL was a remarkably rapid ascent. Selected by Sudbury as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 Ontario Hockey League draft, he spent the next four years as an All-Star defenseman with the OHL's Wolves before making the jump to the Rangers at the start of the 2007-08 season. His only stint in the minor leagues came during the 2006 AHL playoffs, when he was called up to Hartford for a 12-game playoff run.

Here is Staal's story, in his own words:

Click on the links below to hear Staal's voice (Windows Media Player is required)
PART 1: Early hockey and family memories from Thunder Bay.
PART 2: How the unique Staal family helped shape Marc's career.
PART 3: How he came to realize he might one day make it to the NHL.
PART 4: The experience of playing major-junior and international hockey.
PART 5: Marc's draft-day memories from July 30, 2005.
PART 6: Experienceing his first Rangers training camp, return to junior.
PART 7: Spending 2006-07 with both Sudbury and Hartford for playoffs.
PART 8: Making the opening-night roster and his NHL debut vs. Florida.
PART 9: Staal reflects on the key factors that got him to where he is today.

Marc Staal Marc Staal Marc Staal
Playing for Sudbury in 2004-05.
Posing for his draft-day photo in 2005.
Captain of Sudbury Wolves in 2005-06.
Marc Staal Marc Staal Marc Staal
Playing for Hartford in 2006 AHL playoffs.
Rangers' '06 Prospect Development camp.
At Rangers main training camp in 2006.
Marc Staal Marc Staal Marc Staal
Canada World Junior Camp, Dec. 2006
Winning World Junior gold, January 2007.
First Preseason Game at MSG in 2007.
Marc Staal Marc Staal
Playing in first NHL preseason game vs. Isles on Sept. 20, 2005.
Making his NHL debut vs. Florida at MSG on Oct. 4, 2007.
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