RALEIGH — The four brothers grew up in Thunder Bay, Ont., playing on the family’s outdoor rink, sharing the same hockey hopes and dreams — to one day play in the NHL.
For Eric, Marc and Jordan Staal, that day came soon after they were drafted. They quickly jumped into NHL lineups, establishing themselves in the league, competing for Stanley Cups.
But not the youngest brother, Jared.
“For me, it was a little different path, a little different road,” he said.
Jared Staal, 22, will make his NHL debut Thursday for the Carolina Hurricanes against the New York Rangers at PNC Arena. Recalled on Wednesday from the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League, he’ll be in the lineup with Eric, the Canes captain, and Jordan, who is expected to center a line with Jared as a winger.
Marc Staal, a Rangers defenseman, still is recovering from an eye injury suffered early last month. He will not play, but he traveled with the team and will be at the game.
“Maybe he will dress for warmups, just skate around, just so we’re all out there at the same time,” Eric Staal joked Wednesday.
Jared Staal said he received the news after the Checkers’ practice Wednesday, noting he was “shaking a little” as he drove back from the practice rink outside Charlotte.
“I really don’t know what to think about it,” Jared Staal said. “Everything has been such a whirlwind today. I have so many thoughts. You think of everything you’ve gone through. Junior hockey, the minor leagues. To get to this day, with this chance, it pretty surreal. I’m excited and nervous, too.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it will be the fourth time a trio of brothers has played for an NHL team in a season.
Canes coach Kirk Muller laughed Wednesday when asked if he was considering a Staal-Staal-Staal line. That probably won’t happen, but it can’t be completely ruled out.
“Jared has been working hard,” Jordan Staal said. “Now for him to get the opportunity is very exciting and hopefully he plays well and has some fun.”
Eric Staal, 28, was the Canes’ first-round draft choice and the second overall NHL pick in 2003. Marc Staal, 26, was a first-round pick by the Rangers in 2005 and Jordan Staal, 24, went to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round the next year.
“All three were very talented players who were able to play right away,” Jared Staal said.
Jared Staal wasn’t a first-rounder. Taken in the second round by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2008, he played his first professional games for San Antonio of the AHL in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons.
Traded to the Hurricanes in June 2010, he signed a three-year, entry-level contract. He was invited to the Canes’ preseason training camp that fall and played with Eric in an exhibition game before being sent to the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL.
“It was great to play with Eric in that preseason game, but it’s nothing like the real deal,” Jared said.
Jared Staal spent some time in the East Coast Hockey League during the 2010-2011 season. At the end of last season, the Checkers loaned him to Providence of the AHL for seven games.
Staal, listed at 6-4 and 200 pounds, was at something of a crossroads heading into this season and pretty blunt about it, saying in September, “This is, by far, the biggest year of my career so far, being the third year of my contract.”
His numbers have been modest — in 52 games with Charlotte, he has four goals, three assists and 25 penalty minutes. If the Canes still were in playoff contention, he likely would not have gotten an opportunity with the big club.
“Obviously with where we’re at in the season, there’s going to be some guys who get different looks and different chances,” Eric Staal said. “He’s no different than anyone else down there (in Charlotte). He’s a power-type forward. I think he’s kind of found a role down there in the AHL, penalty killing and using his size.
The Canes on Wednesday reassigned center Riley Nash to the Checkers, who open an AHL playoff series Friday at Oklahoma City. Forward Tim Wallace also was reassigned, only to be recalled again.
Jared Staal should play in the Canes’ season finale Saturday in Pittsburgh. That will be a special day for Jordan, who helped the Penguins win the 2009 Stanley Cup. He’ll return for the first time since being traded to Carolina last June.
Eric Staal said he hopes Jared makes the most of these two games, works hard in the offseason and comes back for Canes training camp in peak condition.
“He’s been through a lot of grinds, up and down, a lot as a pro,” Eric said. “He’s beginning to learn what he needs to do to be effective. ... If he has a big summer and comes into camp in good shape, there’s going to be some opportunity there, I think. It’s exciting for him to get his chance now to show what he has.”
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