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That's Staal, folks

'Canes leaving door open for top pick to play in NHL

Posted: Wednesday August 06, 2003 6:00 PM
Updated: Thursday August 07, 2003 2:41 AM
  Eric Staal Peterborough Petes center Eric Staal was the second pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Eric Staal's conditioning during Carolina's rookie camp this week was NHL-caliber.

Will that be enough to land the skinny 18-year-old center a spot on the Hurricanes' opening-day roster?

General manager Jim Rutherford and coach Paul Maurice still don't know whether it's wise to submit the NHL's second overall pick and his 6-foot-3, 182-pound frame to a grinding 82-game NHL season immediately.

But Maurice is already sold on Staal's skating ability and touch around the net after seeing him with the team's other top rookie prospects.

"You just watch him on the ice and you can see the things that come natural to him that just don't come easy to a lot of guys," Maurice said Wednesday. "He has ability to do things with his head up because he's comfortable with the puck. Who knows that that means for training camp, but he's an exceptional player."

Some believe Staal is good enough to come into training camp on Sept. 11 and fit into a team that finished last overall one season after making the Stanley Cup finals.

"It he plays well enough, he can be our No. 1 center if he wants," Rutherford said.

Staal wants to play in the NHL this season and not return to junior hockey, where the teenager will dominate. However, the club is stocked at center with Ron Francis, Rod Brind'Amour, Josef Vasicek, Kevyn Adams and the newly acquired Marty Murray.

Still, Rutherford and Maurice vowed to enter training camp with an open mind about the franchise's highest draft pick in a decade.

"We'll just take it a week at a time," Rutherford said. "There is no pressure on him. It's not like he has to make the team this year. If he shows he's capable of being here, we'll make that happen."

Maurice will watch how Staal handles the pace of camp and the physical part of playing on the NHL level.

Staal will have little time to bulk up over the next month. He leaves for the World Juniors training camp Friday in Calgary and then plays at Carolina's rookie tournament in early September in Ottawa.

"I know it's tough, but I think a lot of it has to do with your mental aspect," Staal said when asked if he could handle the grind of an NHL schedule.

"No one has really pressured me into being in the weight room eight hours a day," Staal added. "I know what I can take and I know what I have to do to get stronger and be a better player."

Maurice said Staal could make the team out of training camp, spend a month or two in the NHL playing less than 10 minutes a game, then return to junior hockey if he encounters fatigue.

"As a starting point, low minutes is not something to be afraid of," Maurice said of playing time for Staal. "But at some point he has to either get more minutes because he's earned them or he'll have to go somewhere where he can get more minutes. I don't think you can spend a year playing six minutes a night."


 
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