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Staal silences critics in earning fifth trip to All-Star Game

Once believed to be on the downslide, forward has been rejuvenated in his season and a half in Minnesota

by Dan Myers @DanMyers / Wild.com

CHICAGO -- Eric Staal's demise has -- officially -- been greatly exaggerated. 

After watching his point totals decrease in each of his final three seasons in a Carolina Hurricanes uniform, then a 20-game stretch with the New York Rangers fall flat, Staal was available for any team to sign as a free agent during the summer of 2016.

He signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract with Minnesota, looking to resurrect his career in the State of Hockey.

Now a year and a half into his tenure with the Wild, Staal is officially an All-Star once again. 

On Wednesday, Staal was named to his fifth career All-Star Game -- and his first since 2011 -- proving there's still plenty left in the 33-year-old's tank. In doing so, he's also proved many critics who said he was finished as recently as two years ago completely wrong.

Tweet from @mnwild: "It's an honor. I'm excited to have the chance and to enjoy the experience with my family, my kids, my wife." �����Eric Staal on #NHLAllStar. pic.twitter.com/Fmfg3fNUEd

"I feel like I've been motivated ever since I've tried to make it to the NHL. I've always been extremely competitive," Staal said. "But there's definitely a little bit added there, just because of how tough those last couple years [in Carolina and New York] were, mentally, and there was a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that people don't know you deal with at home, with hockey and life. 

"So there was a lot of motivation to try and find success and it's been a good fit. But I still want to prove there's a lot more left."

After an outstanding first season in Minnesota last year, one where he tallied 28 goals and 65 points -- his most in a single season since 2011-12 -- Staal has picked up right where he left off. The Thunder Bay, Ontario, native leads the Wild with 19 goals and 37 points in 43 games this season.

He's on pace for his first 30-goal season since 2010-2011, which is also the last time he tallied 70 points in a single campaign. 

Video: Eric Staal 2017-18 highlights

"I'm really proud of Eric," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "You wouldn't have thought this [was possible] three years ago. He's been our most consistent scorer and to battle back to where he's been is quite an achievement. And as a person, it couldn't happen to a nicer person."

"He's been awesome. He's been the MVP of our team so far," Wild forward Charlie Coyle said earlier this week. "He's been great for us. We are lucky to have a guy like him with his experience and everything that he brings."

Staal scored two goals and added one assist and was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2008 All-Star Game in Atlanta. He also played in the 2007, 2009 and 2011 events. 

"There's a lot of great young players, and if you can be included in an event like that, with some of the new faces and still show you've got some game, it's definitely a great thing," Staal said. "The experience and the event itself, it's a fun time. It's relaxing, but at the same time, if you can be a representative of your organization and your team, it's a nice feather in your cap."

For Staal, sharing the experience with his family is what he said he's most looking forward to.

The last time he played in an All-Star Game, his oldest son, Parker, was just two years old. Staal and his wife, Tanya, have since added two more boys to the crew.

Earlier this week, Staal said his sons had been putting a little extra friendly pressure on their old man to get a spot on the All-Star Team.

The five of them will experience Tampa together later this month in a weekend Staal says will be extra special.

"I'm looking forward to that," Staal said. "Once the year is going and this is on the horizon, it's one of those things that if I would have gotten the opportunity to go, I would have really enjoyed to do it with them. 

Video: Eric Staal named to 2018 All-Star team

"They are getting older, they understand the game and the NHL a little bit more, and for their dad to be a part of All-Star weekend, that'll be pretty cool. And for me to be able to enjoy that experience with them, and see some of the faces throughout our League, and meet them and hang out in a more relaxed atmosphere, it's gonna be a real treat and I'm really looking forward to enjoying it with them."


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