Some introductions won’t be necessary Thursday night when the Minnesota Wild visit the Carolina Hurricanes.
It marks the return of former Carolina captain Eric Staal, who’s in his first season with the Wild after signing in the summer as a free agent.
The teams face off at PNC Arena, which was Staal’s home arena for his entire career until a 2016 trade-deadline deal that sent him to the New York Rangers.
It was less than 13 months ago that Staal parted with the Hurricanes.
“It has been a great transition for me and my family,” Staal said Wednesday. “It’s been great to join this group. It was about finding the right fit last summer. We have a great organization that’s really hungry to win. There’s nothing better for a player.”
Staal’s appearance is the overriding theme for this matchup.
“He has had a good year,” Carolina coach Bill Peters said of the situation involving his former player. “Good player and playing on a good team doing good things.”
Minnesota holds the second-best record in the Western Conference despite a 2-5-0 record this month, including a 1-3-0 mark on a road trip that concludes with this game.
“We still like the position we’re in. We like the team we have,” Staal said. “It’s a good feeling to be in the mix.”
The matchup is bound to include a brotherly clash. Jordan Staal is a Hurricanes center, and a teammate with his brother prior to the trade on Feb. 28, 2016.
“He’s having a great season and he’s doing a lot of great things so I’m going to have my hands full,” Jordan Staal said. “We’ve talked about it plenty of times. We’re in this league together, playing against each other. It’s a really neat thing.”
Without pressure that consumed Eric Staal as a captain, Jordan Staal said his brother appears to be playing with a better mindset.
“He’s a little more relaxed,” Jordan Staal said. “He was getting a little weighed down with the pressure here. He put a lot of that on his shoulders and you could tell. He has always been one of the best players I’ve ever played with.”
Eric Staal is the all-time Carolina leader in numerous categories, including games played (909), goals (322), assists (453) and points (775).
Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said the team can overcome its recent hiccups.
“This whole road trip … not winning battles,” he said. “This has been a pretty rough stretch. We’re not playing our best. They’ll get through it and we’ll be better for it.”
Eric Staal said: “It seems like the mistakes we’re making right now are hitting the back of our net. … We need to have a game where we’re tight and difficult to play against because that has kind of been our staple.”
Boudreau, who’ll be in his 750th game as NHL coach, said the Wild should respond knowing how important the game will be to Eric Staal.
Carolina has points in four games in a row, but needs a significant winning streak to move back into playoff contention. Peters said the Wild, which is second in the NHL with 45 road points, pose a big threat.
“They’re deep, that’s the one thing I do know,” Peters said.
The Wild has won its last six games with Carolina. Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter is set to appear in his 900th game.
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