Eric Staal eager to stay with Wild, ready for Central Division battle

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CHICAGO — There’s a new boss in Minnesota and general manager Paul Fenton is taking his time reshaping the Wild roster. While Zach Parise may have expected more changes to happen over the summer, Eric Staal understands why the off-season was spent with extensions and adding depth.

“I guess you’re always thinking there could be, but also at the same time I think it’s difficult for a new guy to come in when he’s invested in another team for a number of years,” Staal told Pro Hockey Talk during the NHL Player Media Tour on Thursday. “He’ll need to really feel out what we have and what certain guys are. So I guess at the same time it’s not that surprising because I’m sure he wants to get his hands in there a little bit more with our group and see where we’re at, especially the start of the year. We’ll see what happens.”

Despite reaching 100 points in three of the last four seasons, the Wild have been bounced from the playoffs in the first round three straight springs. Pieces have been added over the years but owner Craig Leipold’s goal of winning a Stanley Cup after handing Parise and Ryan Suter those massive contracts in 2012 has yet to be realized. 

Last season the Wild dealt with numerous injuries that sidelined Parise for nearly half the season, as well as Jared Spurgeon, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle for a while. On top of that, Suter underwent season-ending ankle surgery just before the playoffs in April.

In the postseason they were bounced by the Winnipeg Jets in five games after nearly making it a series following a Game 3 victory. But Connor Hellebuyck‘s back-to-back shutouts closed out the series and sent the Wild into another early summer.

“The first round against Winnipeg had moments in it where we’re hoping it was going to tilt in our favor and our direction, but ultimately just didnt have enough to be able to get enough winners,” Staal said. “Obviously missing Ryan was huge. He’s our best defenseman and a player that we definitely missed.”

What can be better this season, putting aside all the injury issues?

“We’ve got younger guys that will take another step forward and grab larger roles this coming season,” said Staal. “Again, another tough year with some great teams in our division and we’re going to have to be very good to make sure we’re there at the end of the year.”

For his part, Staal didn’t miss a game and had his best offensive year in nearly a decade. His 42 goals were tied for fourth in the NHL and his 76 points were his highest since the 2010-11 season while a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Staal, who will be 34 in October, has found the fountain of youth since signing in Minnesota in 2016. He’s scored 70 goals over the last two seasons, and as he enters the final year of his contract he’d be happy to stay with the Wild. 

Fenton was hired in May and Staal understands that the new GM has been a bit busy examining his new team and figuring out plans for the future, while also re-signing key pieces like Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba. Extension talks will come at some point.

“We had some kind of conversation as far as we’ll kind of approach it here once we get rolling in the season and go from there,” Staal said. “I’d like to [stay]. I like it. Minnesota’s been a great fit for me and I enjoy playing there, but that isn’t a secret. But those are things that we’ll discuss and figure out as we move forward in the next couple of months.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.