Zdeno Chara, Erik Karlsson, Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo and P.K. Subban. These are some of the names of the NHL's top blueliners, but a healthy Marc Staal will quietly join this echelon of players by the end of the season.
The Hockey News' Forecaster profiled the 6'4", 207-pound Staal, and here is how his game was analyzed.
"Excels in one-on-one battles. Has a very active stick and long reach, which make him very effective in the shutdown role. Skates well and is extremely cerebral. Can produce offensively."
This is a good breakdown of Staal's game, and for that description there is reason to believe that a healthy Marc Staal can quietly become an elite NHL defender.
Before suffering a concussion at the hands of his own brother, Eric, Staal was on the cusp of becoming one of the NHL's top blueliners.
Staal was named an All-Star in 2011, and a few weeks, later he suffered the concussion. Although he would finish the season, his game wasn't the same, and he would miss the start of the 2011-12 season because of post-concussion symptoms.
During this time, Staal already had the reputation of being a hard-hitting, shutdown defender, but he was also just starting to increase his offensive output. Staal finished the 2010-11 season with 29 points, the most in his career to date.
When he returned from injury in 2012, he was playing some of his best hockey, and it looked like the real Marc Staal was back.
Once again he illustrated why he should be considered one of the NHL's top defenders, but he was sidelined again because of a deflected slap shot to the eye from Kimmo Timonen.
Staal seemingly couldn't catch a break, but that didn't stop him from making another comeback to play the game he loves.
While it is fair to say that Staal's injuries could prevent him from entering the upper echelon of top defenders, there are a number of things that need to be considered.
Despite the time he has missed, he is only 26 years old, and he is only going to get better as long as he can stay healthy. The 2005 No. 12 draft pick has a lot of prime years left, and he is playing with some great defenders in New York.
He has also proved that his injuries haven't lingered because, since returning from his concussion, Staal has taken a number of big hits that haven't forced him out of the lineup.
In regard to his eye injury, Staal said that his vision is not impaired in anyway, and so far this season, he has been one of the Rangers' best defenders. The Rangers alternate captain also had a strong training camp, and there is reason to believe that the sky is the limit for Staal.
Although Staal entered the league as a defensive defenseman that would hit anything in his path, he has some skill when the puck is on his blade.
So far Staal's movement with the puck has been good, he has been skating with confidence and he has gotten back to using his offensive skills. During the preseason, he scored on the power play against the Calgary Flames and again on the power play during the Rangers' season opener against the Phoenix Coyotes.
This season Staal should have one of his best offensive seasons to date, and that should help him earn consideration for the Norris Trophy. It goes without saying that Staal is one of the NHL's top shutdown blueliners, but the Norris Trophy is usually given to the NHL's top offensive defenseman.
According to Steve Zipay of Newsday, Staal is going to be given a number of power-play opportunities this season. "I like his shot and I like the fact that he's been able to sneak into the holes in the right areas," Vigneault said. "With Brad you've got a guy who can shoot and pass," Vigneault said. "With Marc right now, we're giving that a look."
Power-play time certainly will allow Staal to put up some points, and it will enhance his exposure. Right now Marc Staal is a very good two-way defenseman for the New York Rangers. If healthy, he will be considered one of the league's best by the end of the year.
Staal already has the defensive makings of a top defender, and his increase in offensive production should be enough for him to solidify his status as an elite NHL defender.
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