Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rangers Player Review: Marc Staal Continues To Develop As Franchise Stalwart

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Fans of the New York Rangers are spoiled by knowing what it is like to have a number one shutdown defenseman in Marc Staal.  Staal has long been the best defenseman on the team, but this season he raised his game another level garnering his first All-Star selection.  Last summer Staal was rewarded for his past played with an eye to his future results when he received a five-year $19.875 million dollar contract.  At the time of the deal there were those who wondered if given his lack of offensive numbers the Rangers had overpaid Staal. 
This season should have erased those questions from anyone who asked them.  With each passing season Staal proves he is amongst the best shutdown defenders in the league while slowly adding to his offensive game along with taking on more leadership in the room.  To have him locked up for four more seasons at less than $4 million per season against the cap is a coup for the organization as he heads into his prime years. 
Each night Staal, along with his partner Dan Girardi, takes on the very best that the opposing team has to bring to the table.  The job the pair does against the league’s best often seems to spoil Rangers’ fans on the rare night where Staal has an off game as fans seem to forget just how good he is.  Maybe it is the lack of flash to Staal’s game that causes many to underappreciate the way he shuts down the league’s elite on a nightly basis.  If there is anything to criticize in his game it would be that he has nights where he doesn’t take the body like he is capable of doing and how he can get overaggressive on the inside move and be beaten wide on the rush.  Those things are clearly nitpicking as Staal does have ferocious hits at times and uses his long reach and excellent positioning to be the player that he is over the course of the season.
In 77 games, Staal had seven goals and 22 assists for a career high 29 point season. Staal’s offensive improvement was aided by increased chances on the power play where he had four goals and seven assists after having zero goals only one power play assist in his first three seasons combined.  Staal continued to cement himself as a workhorse averaging a career high 25:44 of ice time per game this season to lead the Rangers.  It was the fourth consecutive season that he has increased his ice time and at times, especially late in the season, it seemed to take a toll on him this year.  Hopefully with a more consistent and trusted third defensive pair next season the Rangers can back down Staal’s minutes to some extent and keep him fresher every night.
What you had to like most about Staal’s 2010-11 season was not that he continued to do the things that made him so good in the past, but that he continues to add elements to his game.  He had significantly more confidence this season in rushing the puck up the ice and joining the rush which helps to create offense for himself and space for his teammates.   Along with that and the afore mentioned contributions on special teams, Staal took on a significantly larger leadership role when he assumed the “A” for the first time this season.   He is another of the even-keeled leader on the team and at the heart of the core this team is being built upon.
Aside from Henrik Lundqvist there is no more valuable player to the New York Rangers than Marc Staal.  A number one defender is not an easy thing to find in this league.  The Rangers are blessed to have one as young as Staal with so many years left in his career and it would behoove those who seek to criticize Staal to remember that fact.
Final Grade: A