Monday, December 13, 2010

Marc Staal: Following His Instincts To Rise To Another Level

With each player the evolution and maturation of their game happens at different times, paces and rates and the Rangers have seen that first hand with the growth of their young core.  As important as Brandon Dubinsky is as a goal scorer, Ryan Callahan as a leader, Dan Girardi as defender of the main parts of the young core who have been here the last few years none are as important to the long term viability of the New York Rangers as Marc Staal.  The now 23 year old defender, currently in his fourth season, has been a defensive stalwart for the Rangers nearly from day one.  Over each of the last few seasons there has been a desire from the fans and the coaching staff for him to take the next step offensively to go with his prowess as a shutdown defender.  There were those who criticized Glen Sather for the amount of money he paid to a one-way defender over the summer because of his lack of offensive results.  I wonder if those people are still talking now as the evolution of Marc Staal continues to happen before our eyes.

Last month while discussing Staal I talked about how he had struggled early in the season but was turning things around and adding even more physicality to his game I touched on his offense.  Staal has still had some up and downs and he will have his off nights just like Lundqvist, but as with Lundqvist realize how rare they are and appreciate them instead of harping on them as proof of some bigger truth that does not exist.  In that frame I said that his defense was struggling because he was being pushed too hard to contribute offensively instead of letting him play his game and his natural talents would take over.  What we have seen the last two nights and much more of late is just that.  He is playing his defensive game at a more consistent level, though he will still have a bad night, and he is feeling the natural moments to jump into the play and look for his offense. 

The last two nights are examples of where not by design but by instinct Staal created offense for himself and the team.  Against Columbus Staal read the play behind the net with Fedotenko and pinched from the far side for the back door play on the power play.  This is not a play the Rangers run or certainly not enough on the power play it was just a simple read of the scenario and having the confidence to make the play which resulted in a goal.  Last night against Washington after making the defensive play killing the penalty again he read the play, supporting the rush and created a two-on-one and following a great pass from Brian Boyle he finished again for his sixth goal of the season, just two shy of his career high with 50 games left in the season.

For those that questioned whether he was worth his new salary of just under 4 million dollars a year take a look at Staal’s last 10 games in which he has 3 goals 5 assists +2 rating and has averaged 25:49 a game TOI.  Staal’s 6 goals rank him T-4th in the NHL among defense in addition to his steady defensive metrics.  Marc Staal is never going to be Brian Leetch offensively, but what he already is as a shutdown defender makes that kind of offense unnecessary for him to be a cornerstone piece of this organization as their franchise defender, but what Staal is showing is he is still only 23 and there is still a lot more ceiling to his offensive game.  Marc Staal for the better part of three seasons was a player with excellent vision and instincts on the defensive end and now he is letting himself through natural progression in his game apply those instincts to the other side of the ice and I for one am excited to see the results as we are witnessing the most critical piece of the Rangers younger core (not counting Lundqvist) truly become an elite defender in this league on both sides of the ice.  With each season his offense has improved and this year appears to be no different and a season of 15 goals and 35-40 points seems very possible for him which combined with his defense might make him a top 10 defender in the league this season as while he won’t match others offense they cannot match his D.