Eric Staal Will Be Key in the First Round

The New York Rangers are set to play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the NHL playoffs, and if New York has any success, they will need power-forward Eric Staal to be a force in all three zones. He was injured in Game 82 of the regular season in an awkward collision with teammate Jesper Fast, but it looks like he’ll be good to suit up for Game 1 of the playoffs.

Staal was the team’s biggest add at this year’s trade deadline, and now they’ll see if the veteran can bring the jump to the team that they were hoping when they sent two second-round picks and forward Aleksi Saarela to Carolina for his services.

A Bump in Production

Staal only has six points in his 20 games with the Rangers, and while that’s not exactly encouraging, it will be forgotten if he can find a way to notch some points in the postseason. Despite not scoring much, he has given the Rangers’ third line some jump with his ability to win battles and use his size to create plays.

Staal had one of his best games with New York against the Penguins back on March 27, where he found a way to score twice despite the Rangers falling in overtime. On the first goal, Staal outmuscles Trevor Daley to the net and gets his stick on a puck to punch it past Marc-Andre Fleury.

With the size and skill he has, it’s not unreasonable to think that he could give the bottom part of the Penguins defense some headaches in the first round. Staal seems to play with an extra jump in those tight-checking games, and in the postseason, teams need the greasy goals to win.

Knowing How to Win

Staal has only been to the postseason twice in his career, but he still has 43 games of playoff experience, and in those games he has 43 points and a Stanley Cup to show for it. He won’t be in the same role with the Rangers that he was in Carolina; in New York, he’ll be looked at to provide depth and secondary scoring while with Carolina he was the primary weapon. The scoring acumen will still be significant, but he can be an X-factor by harnessing his intangibles.

If we look at takeaways, Staal has 17 in 20 games, to provide an idea of how sound that is, his linemate Kevin Hayes has 24 takeaways in 79 games played. Regarding faceoffs, he’s winning 51 percent of his draws, which is second only to Dominic Moore, who draws at 55.3 percent. Now look at his ability to kill penalties, he’s carved out a nice spot on the short-handed unit and has given them some much-needed help by averaging 1:14 per game.

My Take

I think Staal has been one of the Rangers’ best players down the stretch. He doesn’t try to make something out of nothing; he simply plays a hard-nosed game, and it’s given the team a heavier look. To me, the key with him is that he does everything, he can bring offense, but at the same time, he can be relied on to be a sound defensive player with a physical edge. To have success in the postseason, teams need a guy that can move around the lineup.

It’s been a strange 20 games for Staal since joining the Rangers, but I suspect the playoffs will shoot his game to the next level.