Jordan Staal (leg) might return before New Years Eve

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Jordan Staal hasn’t played yet this season because of a broken leg suffered in September, but his recovery is almost over. Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said the 26-year-old forward is close to returning and Carolina’s game against Montreal on Dec. 29 looks like a reasonable target date, per NHL.com writer Dan Rosen.

Going into tonight’s contest against the New York Rangers, the Hurricanes have posted a lousy 9-19-4 record without Staal this season. While he hasn’t emerged as a star player, he is a valuable two-way forward that will provide Carolina with a significant boost. At the same time, it’s hard to envision Staal — or any one player — being capable of digging Carolina out of its sizable hole.

The Hurricanes rank 29th in the league, ahead of only the Edmonton Oilers. They would need to close a six-point gap just to climb out of the Eastern Conference basement and are a staggering 14 points behind in the playoff race.

If nothing else though, once Staal returns, the Hurricanes might find themselves close to full strength. Alexander Semin, who missed five straight games with a lower-body injury, was activated ahead of Sunday’s contest.