The Carolina Hurricanes waited much of Thursday for a medical update on injured center Jordan Staal.
The news could not have been much more gloomy: Staal, injured Tuesday during an exhibition at Buffalo, has a fractured right fibula that will require surgery. The expected recovery time is three to four months.
The team said the surgery would be performed Friday by Drs. Kevin Logel and Marty Isbell at Raleigh Orthopaedic.
For a team that has missed the Stanley Cup playoffs the past five seasons, Staal’s loss is a huge blow. The Hurricanes will be without their best defensive center and a player who had not missed a game since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in June 2012.
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Coach Bill Peters said after Thursday’s practices at PNC Arena that Staal would be replaced “by committee.”
“We don’t have one guy who’s 6-(foot-)4, 230 (pounds) we can just insert there and play all those minutes,” Peters said. “Obviously we’re going to miss him, but it’s our job to move forward and still play well and win hockey games.”
Peters made those comments while awaiting the medical update on Staal. The hope initially was that Staal, 26, would not need surgery and might be able to return sooner.
Staal, 26, was injured late in the game Tuesday, falling to the ice after a puck battle with the Sabres’ Josh Gorges. He traveled with the team to Uniondale, N.Y., for the Canes’ exhibition Wednesday against the New York Islanders before returning to Raleigh for further medical evaluation Thursday.
Staal’s brother, Eric, said Thursday he was confident Jordan would be able to recover, return and contribute to the Canes this season.
Eric and Jordan Staal were playing together for Canada in the 2013 World Championship in Sweden when Eric Staal suffered a serious knee injury. Jordan offered him encouragement during his months of physical rehab before last season. Eric, in turn, has empathy for what Jordan is experiencing.
“Initially, there’s the frustration of it all happening,” Eric Staal said. “I think he’s already over that and now it’s about getting healthy and getting back. It’ll just take a little longer than we hoped.
“He is in phenomenal shape, the best shape I’ve seen him in. For something as freak as that was to happen is really, really tough, but his spirits have been pretty good. We’re going to come out with a game plan with the doctor and the training staff as to the best approach healing up. You just attack that. I think that’s the way he’s looking at it. And for us, as teammates, to support him and make sure he’s in the loop and wait for him to be back.”
With Jordan Staal out, the Canes likely will rely on younger, less experienced players such as Riley Nash, Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm to help fill the void at center and on special teams – Jordan Staal was one of the team’s most effective penalty killers and was used on the power play.
“Well, we’re going to have to,” Eric Staal said. “Like Bill (Peters) said, I don’t think anybody is going to be 6-4, 230, a strong man who’s tough to play against. It’s going to be a collective team type effort to have everybody fill that kind of role. There will be different guys playing different minutes and different guys needed to step up.”
“We need to step up. We’ve got an opportunity for some guys to gain experience and get better.”
Rask, 21, played last season for the Charlotte Checkers in the American Hockey League – his first full season of professional hockey. A 6-2, 200-pound Swede and a former second-round draft pick by the Canes, he has impressed Peters and other with his solid overall play.
“He’s been good, he’s been poised,” Eric Staal said. “I think his skating has improved a lot since the last time I saw him here at camp and his confidence is a little bit higher.
“I’m sure he’s a guy they’re going to be looking at for possibly getting an opportunity. So he has to make the most of it, as other guys should, as well.”