Hurricanes' Jordan Staal lighter, quicker and ready for new season

calexander@newsobserver.comSeptember 4, 2013 

— After a good skate Wednesday at Raleigh Center Ice, Jordan Staal settled back into the Carolina Hurricanes’ locker room at the rink, looking happy and at ease.

Staal said he dropped 10 pounds from his playing weight last season. The big center said he not only feels lighter, but quicker on the ice.

More than anything, Staal is ready for training camp and a new season – a complete, 82-game NHL season.

“I’m excited where I’m at right now,” he said. “I feel really good.”

Last year was, in a word, disappointing. First came the NHL lockout. Then, Staal struggled to meet the expectations that came when the Hurricanes made the big trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins last summer, then signed him to a 10-year, $60 million contract extension. Staal found out he had been traded on his wedding day.

“Last summer was a mess,” he said. “I had 11 weddings to go to, and my own wedding. It all added up and it was a tough summer to get in the right frame of mind and get my body right.”

Once the lockout ended and the NHL season began in January, Staal centered the second line but also took on the task of being the Canes’ best checking center. He never was able to fully display the offensive capability he believed was shackled a bit in Pittsburgh.

Staal’s final numbers were modest: 10 goals and 21 assists during the 48-game season. He also had a minus-18 rating, easily the worst of his seven-year NHL career.

That’s hardly the way Staal envisioned it after the trade. He thought he and his big brother, Canes captain Eric Staal, would get the team back in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009.

But while Eric Staal played most of the season with wingers Jiri Tlusty and Alex Semin, Jordan went through many different combinations. Jeff Skinner was on his line and later Tuomo Ruutu, but the wingers seemingly changed every third game.

“It was just a tough season, with a lot of things that kind of rolled up into a ball,” Jordan Staal said.

Staal, 24, noted the Canes were “cruising along” the first half of the season and leading the Southeast Division. Then, he said, “It just kind of broke apart.”

When the season ended, Jordan and Eric Staal headed to the IIHF World Championship to play for Canada. That didn’t work out well either, as Eric Staal suffered a serious knee injury.

While Jordan and his wife, Heather, went on a Mediterranean cruise after the tournament, Eric came back to North America to begin months of rehabilitation. Jordan later worked out with brothers Marc and Jared in their hometown of Thunder Bay, Ont.

“We really pushed each other,” said Jared, a forward who made his NHL debut for the Canes late last season.

Marc Staal, a defenseman with the New York Rangers, continued to recover from an eye injury sustained last season. Meanwhile, 6-foot-4 Jordan trimmed his weight to 220 pounds.

“I’m pretty excited for Jordan,” Jared said. “I think he should have a good year.”

Before returning to Raleigh, Jordan, Eric and Marc Staal attended Canada’s Olympic orientation camp. Eric helped Canada take the gold in Vancouver at the 2010 Winter Games, and the three could be teammates at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.

“There’s definitely some work to be done for that,” Jordan said, smiling. “One of us has a good chance – the one with the medal on him already. Marc hasn’t played a lot of hockey and has something to prove. And so do I. I didn’t have great season last year and I know a good start for myself may get me back into the running.”

An alternate captain for the Canes, Jordan will look to shoulder more leadership responsibility this season. He also realizes he once again should be the Canes’ most effective checking center.

“I understand that, and that’s a big reason why I am where I am today – playing that role and doing those things well,” he said. “That’s how good teams win, too.

“I need to find a way to have that happy balance between playing a solid defensive game and shutting those top guys down, and at the same time chipping in (offensively) when I can. My game slipped in that area last year. Toward the end I starting feeling more comfortable. Hopefully, I’ll have a big start this year.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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