Carolina Hurricanes history has been a rollercoaster ride that has seen the team rise up to the top of the NHL hockey world only to quickly fall back to its bottom. Eric Staal was the Canes reward for the fall from reaching the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals to missing the playoffs by a wide margin in the following 2002-03 season. On June 21, 2003, the Carolina Hurricanes selected Eric Staal #2 overall in the NHL draft.
He arrived in Raleigh in the summer of 2003 with the expectation that he might need another year in juniors before jumping to the NHL. But Staal had other ideas. When he was amongst the league leaders in scoring for the NHL preseason and started reasonably strong in the regular season, it became impossible to demote him back to juniors. He had a modest 11 goals and 20 assists in that first season but benefitted from the experience. The 2004-05 lockout gave him the chance to hone his game and grow from what he learned as an NHL rookie in the AHL.
When the 2005-06 started, he looked like a different player. Centering a line with playmaker Cory Stillman and space-making power forward Erik Cole, Eric Staal burst out of the gate in the 2005-06 season. At the 20-game mark, he had an astounding 12 goals and 16 assists. His pace ultimately slowed a little, but in a season that he started at the age of 20, he finished with 45 goals and 55 assists for an even 100 points which was good enough for eighth in the league in points and seventh in goals scored. He also finished fourth in voting for the Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP).
He continued his strong play in the 2005-06 playoffs where he was one of the players in contention for the Conn Smyth Trophy until the very end. His first playoff goal was a huge overtime game-winner to get the Canes their first win and avoid going down 3-0 in the first round series against Montreal. He posted points in 16 straight games on the way to leading the Hurricanes in playoff scoring with 9 goals and 19 assists for 28 points. The season ended with Eric Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes hoisting the Stanley Cup, and Staal establishing himself as a new star in the NHL.
He picked up right where he left off in the 2006-07 season scoring 30 goals. Staal went on to score more than 30 goals in five out of six season with the lone miss being a 29-goal season in 2009-10. In the 2008-09 season, Staal returned to the 40-goal level and led the Hurricanes back to the playoffs. In the last 17 games of the 2008-09 regular season, Eric Staal drove the Canes playoff push with 13 goals and 13 assists in the team’s last 17 games and grew to become the team’s leader.
He was just as good in the 2009 playoffs. In a tight first round matchup against familiar foe New Jersey, Staal led the Hurricanes with five goals and tied line mates Chad LaRose and Ray Whitney with 7 points. When the chips were down, Staal was at his best. He had two goals and one assist in a game six win at home to force a game seven. Then in game seven to go with an assist earlier in the game, he ripped a deep slap shot off the rush to beat Martin Brodeur for a game-winning goal with 32 seconds remaining in regulation. The goal completed a stunning late comeback that saw the Canes score twice in the last 1:20 to steal a win and advance to the second round of the playoffs. Against the Boston Bruins in the second round, Eric Staal collected another four goals and two assists, helping lead his team to another thrilling series win. The Hurricanes were stopped short of the ultimate goal in the Eastern Conference Finals, but during the thrilling run, Staal again proved to be a clutch playoff scorer finishing with ten goals and five assists in 18 playoff games.
In the 2009-10 season, the emerging leader took a more official leadership handoff when the ‘C’ was passed from Hurricane great Rod Brind’Amour to Eric Staal on January 20, 2010.
Since then, he has been consistent his run as an ‘every night’ player, scorer and leader. His list of accomplishments and statistical totals in a Carolina Hurricanes uniform is impressive.
–He has four All-Star appearances and an MVP award in addition to being a captain when the event was in Raleigh.
–He won an Olympic gold medical playing for Team Canada in 2010.
–He has been a model for health playing in all of the Hurricanes games in six seasons, missing only one game in two more seasons and playing in 846 of his team’s 868 games (through August 2015) since he entered the NHL.
–(As of August 2015) He sits atop the Carolina Hurricanes all-time leaderboard in games with 846, goals with 312, assists with 430, game-winning goals with 47 and many other categories.
At the age of 30 years old (as of August 2015), he has already carved out a significant place in Carolina Hurricanes history and in the process is a frontrunner to have his #12 be the next jersey to go to the rafters in PNC Arena. For that, Eric Staal sits amongst the all-time Hurricanes hockey greats.