It hasn’t happened often, but it has happened, and Eric Staal has no objections to it.
Staal was moved from center to the wing Monday during the Carolina Hurricanes’ 4-1 victory against the Calgary Flames, playing on a line centered by rookie Victor Rask. He was on the wing again Wednesday at practice and will be there when Carolina hosts the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday at PNC Arena.
Staal, the Canes captain, was used as a winger for Team Canada during the 2010 Winter Olympics, helping win a gold medal. He has been at left wing a few times for the Canes with brother Jordan Staal at center, but has played nearly all of his 800-plus regular-season and playoff games for Carolina at center.
Coach Bill Peters said during training camp that having the Staal brothers on the same line was being considered. That talk ended when Jordan Staal suffered a broken leg in preseason.
With the Canes in a tight game against the Flames and Peters mixing and matching his lines, the move was made and a game was won.
“We talked about it from Day One, and we came to conclusion why wait? Why wait until Jordan comes back?” Peters said Wednesday. “We might as well try it now.
“(Eric is) a big, strong guy who plays north-south, and he wants to work. I think it’ll be effective here in the short term and possibly the long term, allowing him to drive the net and play more of a power-forward type game and be strong on pucks in the offensive zone. (Rask has) been a good player who has been responsible in all three zones and I think has the ability to get him the puck.”
Staal had five shots against the Flames, matching his season high. Zach Boychuk was on the right side after the switch, but Peters said he will use Jiri Tlusty at right wing on Rask’s line against the Jets.
“It’s different,” Staal said. “It depends on what type of game it is, to be honest. I mean I like having the puck, I like being around the puck. Last game was good. I thought our line generated a lot. We had some good shifts, and Victor’s playing with some confidence.
“Hopefully it will be good. We’ve got some good balance and different lines going and obviously wins is what we’re here for and the most important thing.”
Staal said he spent some time on the wing in the 2009-10 season when he had a triceps injury and was unable to take faceoffs. He believes Matt Cullen was the center.
“I’ve been there before but not a lot,” Staal said. “Depending on who we’re playing and how things are going, sometimes it’s easier to be more effective at center. But as I said, there’s good depth at forward, and hopefully I’m around the puck a lot and attacking the net with my size and speed, and shooting a lot of pucks.”
Peters has proven to be a quick study who doesn’t hesitate to make changes. He had Staal centering Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin to begin the Calgary game, but after a sluggish first period, he had Staal on the Rask line and Jay McClement centering Skinner and Semin.
“He doesn’t wait around,” Staal said. “He’s got a pretty good feel for what he wants to see and what he feels he needs to see. If he doesn’t like what he sees, he’ll fix it, and that’s fine with me. Right now the right buttons are being pushed, and we’re winning games.”
Jets coach Paul Maurice said he was aware of the Canes’ line changes. A former Canes coach, Maurice had Staal as a rookie in 2003-04 and later as team captain in his second coaching stint with Carolina.
Staal was injured and not in the lineup last month when the Canes lost in Winnipeg 3-1. As Maurice noted, the Jets faced a Carolina team without either Staal.
As for Staal on the wing, Maurice said, “At the end of the day he’s still going to have the puck on his stick a lot. He’s so long and gets that puck away from his body, you have a hard time keeping him away from the net.”