Carolina Hurricanes Captain Eric Staal Must Step Up

Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal must step up.  Way to state the obvious, right?  The 2014-15 NHL regular season hasn’t even begun and all eyes in Raleigh are on the captain.  Gee thanks.  I’m sure Eric is delighted to be the focal point of talk radio and print/social media without having yet skated in the preseason.  Oh, the joy of leadership.  We will soon see if he is indeed up to the challenge of giving the leadership the ‘Canes need to face the hole left by the injury to his brother, Jordan.

Local sports talk this week: Eric Staal must step up.

Listening to local sports radio I heard a consensus that Eric Staal must step up.  The pressure is on, etc.  I can’t say that I disagree entirely.  His brother Jordan will be out for 3-4 months after having successful surgery Thursday.  That’s a long time.  It’s ironic that I asked if Jordan is overrated and overpaid here, and now it seems like that question is answered with a resounding “No!”  He will be missed, and missed a great deal.  The hole that he leaves is big on face-offs and defense.  He is a big player, and the hole he leaves is indeed massive.  Do you agree with the pundits, that Eric Staal must step up?

Let’s keep in mind that Eric Staal had surgery in the off season.  Not last May, either.  He had surgery in late July to repair a core muscle injury.  That means that his recovery time – which was predicted to be quick – was a mere 6-8 weeks prior to training camp.  That’s not a long time to heal after being cut.  However, the team says he is ready, and was held out of the first 3 preseason games simply as a precaution.  Staal is expected to hit the ice Tuesday in preseason game 4 versus the St. Louis Blues.  We should get a good sense of how he feels and whether or not he appears tentative in any way.

Does Eric Staal Really Need to Step Up?

Despite the pressure of being captain,  is it on all Staal?  He says not entirely.  Wednesday he said that it is something that the team will have to deal with “collectively.”  Coach Bill Peters went further, specifically mentioning Jay McClement as needing to step up on the face-offs in the defensive end.  The 31-year old center who has spent time with the Blues, the Colorado Avalanche and the Toronto Maple Leafs was acquired by the Hurricanes in the off season, along with former Avalanche center Brad Malone.

Riley Nash – a guy I like a lot – will also need to bring his game to another level.  Last year’s 3rd line center is still young, with only a shade over a full year of NHL experience.  But, in my opinion, he is a key building block for this team at center and should be given every opportunity to stay on the Hurricanes’ roster. While it is only the preseason, Nash did have a nice goal in the ‘Canes losing effort against the Sabres, and I’m fully expecting him to grow into a confident, reliable center as the season unfolds.

Victor Rask Becoming the New Local Favorite

In one short week, Victor Rask has become quite popular among Hurricanes fans in Raleigh.  He showed good face-off skills in Traverse City in the Prospects Tournament, and has stood strong in the preseason thus far, looking like he belongs in the ‘Canes Sweater.  He’s young, too – 21 years old.  Drafted in the 2nd round in 2011, he has yet to play in a regular season NHL game.  He played a full slate with the Hurricanes’ minor-league affiliate Charlotte Checkers last season, netting 16 goals and 23 assists.  Jordan Staal’s absence is going to be felt immediately on face-offs.  Rask has the skills, and may be part of the “collective” solution that Eric Staal was alluding to in filing his brother’s void.  I think we will see young Victor sporting a Carolina sweater quite a bit.

There is no question that Eric Staal Must Step Up

He wears the “C” and in so doing is looked to by his teammates and coaches to provide leadership. Without his brother’s injury he was already the topic of endless speculation as to whether or not he could shake off the past 2 years and return to form.  ‘Canes fans have been patient – understanding that Staal was injured at the beginning of last year and are willing to possibly be patient again this season – as long as there is improvement.  Particularly with a new head coach in Bill Peters and new GM in Ron Francis a patient attitude seems to be in order.  But, fans want to see the Eric Staal they have believed in since their Stanley Cup win in 2006.  If he is true to form, even if the Hurricanes don’t make the playoffs this season, I think fans will be upbeat.

Captain Eric needs to step up on face-offs, the power play, and perhaps showing some of the two-way presence he has shown in the past.  He is extremely talented – a superstar in the National hockey League.  Can he and will he step up this season?  I believe he will.  How do you feel about it?