Minnesota Wild: 2018-19 Season Preview of Eric Staal

WINNIPEG, MB - APRIL 20: Eric Staal #12 of the Minnesota Wild takes part in the pre-game warm up prior to NHL action against the Winnipeg Jets in Game Five of the Western Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell MTS Place on April 20, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)
WINNIPEG, MB - APRIL 20: Eric Staal #12 of the Minnesota Wild takes part in the pre-game warm up prior to NHL action against the Winnipeg Jets in Game Five of the Western Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell MTS Place on April 20, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images) /

A resurgent Eric Staal is not what the Minnesota Wild expected when they signed him 2 years ago, but they are happy with what they got. 12 Day to Preseason!

Minnesota Wild center Eric Staal is coming off back-to-back 60+ point seasons for the first time since 2010-2012. Many are expecting a regression from a 33 year old center who appears to be playing beyond reality, but perhaps there is more to his sudden career resurgence than what lies on the surface.


Eric Staal began his story in the early 2000s, in the small city of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, long before he joined the Minnesota Wild. He spent 3 years playing junior hockey for the Peterborough Petes of the OHL, finishing the 2002-03 season (his draft year) with 98 points (39G, 59A) in only 66 games.

The Carolina Hurricanes rewarded his production by making him the 2nd overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, behind Marc-Andre Fleury, and ahead of familiar faces Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Eric Fehr, and Brent Burns in the same draft year.

As a highly touted prospect, Staal immediately made the jump to the NHL and would play in all but 1 game, finishing with 31 points while averaging over 16 minutes of ice time per game. All impressive numbers as a rookie., and good enough for 6th that season on a mediocre Hurricanes team.

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Minnesota Wild

Following the 2004-05 NHL Lockout, spent in the AHL, Staal would continue to impress in his second NHL season, by leaps and bounds as it were. Staal would record 100 points (45G, 55A) in 82 games, and 28 points through 25 playoff games as the sophomore lead his team to it’s only Stanley Cup victory to date.

From there, Staal was a poster of consistency as he finished the following 6 seasons with at least 70 points and missing only 13 games combined over that time, including another deep playoff run in 2008-09. On paper, it could be viewed that the 2012-13 Lockout season was where the eldest Staal brother saw his production start to decline.

The summer of 2012 saw an important event occur which dictated Eric’s final 4 years in Carolina, and his eventual trade. At the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Carolina acquired Eric’s younger brother, Jordan Staal, to let the brothers play together in the coming season.

Unfortunately, the arrival of brother Jorden coincides with Eric’s drop in points (granted, it was a shortened season due to the NHL Lockout). Despite the pairs blood relation, the lockout shortened season ended with another year of missed playoffs and more questions than answers.

Eric would continue his streak of durability, only missing 8 more games in the 3 seasons that followed, but his production on the ice left much to be desired. Carolina had traded away much of the talent and the Staal brothers were being leaned on heavily to carry the offense.

Eric’s scoring stats would drop year by year, bottoming out at a dismal 33 points through 63 games in 2015-16 before he was traded by Carolina to play with his other brother, Marc Staal, and the New York Rangers.

A brief stay in New York ended with 6 points in 20 regular season games, and a scoreless playoff series as Eric and Marc were swept out of the first round. Having played with both of his brothers, and looking to reignite his career, Staal walked away from New York without a new deal and found his way to Minnesota on a one-year deal.

Season Outlook

Eric Staal is the clear cut #1 Center on the Minnesota Wild, as we enter the NHL Training Camp and Preseason. There is no debate, there are no questions, the only thing I see in front of Staal at this time are high expectations for a repeat of his 2005-06 Sophomore NHL Season.

Consecutive 70 point seasons from a player now approaching 34 years old are not heard or seen very often anymore. It is a testament to the skill of the player, that we are looking at a year where Staal could potentially go for a 3rd year in a row as the Minnesota Wild’s top scorer.

Staal and Jason Zucker were absolutely terrific last season, no matter who was playing on the other wing. I’ve projected Nino Niederreiter will be the man filling the right slot this season, but Stall and Zucker also spent a decent amount of time with Mikael Granlund while Nino was hurt, which could be a backup plan if lines need to be shuffled for any reason.

The rejuvenation of Eric Staal does have some obvious statistical merit to back-up how he was able to find his game again, but rather than bore you with the numbers I’ll make it quick. Head coach Bruce Boudreau appears to have found the magic formula, and it starts in the defensive zone.

A look back through Staal’s career (on hockey-reference.com) found a notable piece of information regarding Staal’s zone starts. When Staal was scoring 70+ points consistently as a member of Carolina, he was getting an even split of offensive and defensive zone time. When his stats started to decline, coincides with the Hurricanes giving him more offensive starts.

This continued as he began starting more and more shifts in the offensive zone, and his offensive responsibilities continued to increase, his offensive production continued to decline. Boudreau has made a drastic reduction in Staal’s time with the Minnesota Wild, and actually closed the gap to about a 50/50 split of offensive vs defensive zone starts.

As a 2-way center, with scoring prowess, it is actually not surprising that Staal excels when he is given more defensive responsibility. Boudreau relies on Eric as a faceoff expert, regardless of zone, and does not lean heavily on his top point scorer for the offense, he allows it to come naturally.

This season with the Minnesota Wild should be more of the same. With a healthy Zucker and Niederreiter (or Granlund) lined up around him, and more offensive weapons chomping at the bit for playing time, I think the 2 way playmaker Staal will continue his resurgence and lead this team for another year, unless a blockbuster trade is in the works.

Should the Minnesota Wild be out of the playoff race late in the season, there is a high possibility that Staal could be seen as a high value bargaining chip come trade deadline. He is on the final year of his current contract, and re-signing with Minnesota seems highly unlikely given his age and the lineup of young centers waiting to take his spot.

Next. Could Charlie Coyle be Traded?. dark

Another 70 point season, spent anchoring the Minnesota Wild top line between a couple of offensive weapons should be realistic for the veteran in his 15th NHL Season. A drop in goals could be expected, as 45 goals last season was quite outstanding, think 30-35 goals with 40 assists is the more appropriate expectation.