Upon signing Eric Staal to a three-year, $10.5 million deal on the opening day of free agency, the Wild said they needed him to be “the Eric Staal that he was in the past.”
That, apparently, includes Staal playing the position he did in the past — center.
There’s a good chance he’ll reprise that role in Minnesota on the top line between Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle, ditching the move to left wing he underwent with the Rangers last year.
“A lot of things just went wrong,” said Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau said, per the club website. “I don’t think he liked playing left wing. I think he’s the kind of the guy that wants the puck in the middle and wants to handle it and play with it.
“He wants to be the guy.”
Staal was less direct about his desire to play the middle. But he did suggest the chance to start anew in Minnesota, and revive himself as a top-line center, was something he relished.
“It’s an opportunity for me hopefully to hit the refresh button, and go out there and enjoy playing the game,” Staal said. “For me, the first time going through the free agent process, it was more or less about looking for the opportunity to play an important role on a good team.
“Minnesota is a good team, and I felt like there were some spots I could fit to help make a difference.”
The 31-year-old will be one to watch this season. Minnesota’s lack of depth at center has been well documented — former winger Thomas Vanek had a pretty telling take on it, prior to getting bought out — and rather than make a big splash via trade or a more expensive upgrade in free agency, GM Chuck Fletcher saw Staal as a potential reclamation project.
The biggest plus from adding Staal might be the domino effect. As mentioned above, it could allow Charlie Coyle to play in a top-six winger role, and it could allow Fletcher hold onto the “trade a defenseman” card until the beginning or middle of the season, should the club need a boost.
Of course, there is the age issue. Staal joins the likes of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville and Devan Dubnyk as core guys on the wrong side of 30, at a time where Wild fans are clamoring for the team to get younger and faster.
Related: With an aging core, the Wild could be Boudreau’s biggest challenge yet