This week’s focus is on Eric Staal of the Peterborough Petes of the OHL.
Eric Staal, C 6’3, 190lbs. Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Eric Staal is one of the better young players eligible for this years NHL Entry Draft. With an imposing frame, Staal can not only dominate but intimidate. Given that Staal is only 17 and will be able to grow a little more and add roughly 25-30 pounds to his now 6’3 frame and he will prove to be a tough player too handle in the future in the NHL. This is part of the reason that Staal is rated as the OHL’s #2 draft eligible prospect in the CSB’s preliminary rankings. Being placed ahead of such prospect as Patrick O’Sullivan, Dustin Brown, and Dan Fritsche is quite an accomplishment considering the hype these guys had coming into the season. However, Staal has earned it with his superb and sometimes dominate play. In fact, his play has been so widely acclaimed that Staal recently received an invite to the Nation Junior Team camp.
If successful at this camp, Staal will have the opportunity to represent his country at the World Junior Championships in Halifax. This is no small accomplishment for Staal as this year’s camp roster was not easy to crack for players under the age of 18. Only three Players (Staal, Braydon Coburn and Marc-Andre Fleury), were initially selected for the camp. Nathan Horton, the number 1 ranked player from the OHL, was added after defensemen Chris Heid was dropped from the camp roster due to a hand injury. Unlike past WJC’s, under 18 players at this years camp are a rarity and not one is guaranteed a spot on the final team. Given his solid overall game and his size and strength, Staal could add some much needed size to the forward position for the Canadian team.
The scouting report on Staal is a detailed one, as per usual when you are discussing a player of his wide variety of skills. Jake Dole, one of the editor’s of Hockeysfuture.com, had this to say in regards to Staal; “A very well-rounded two-way centre…. fluid skater with a tremendous stride, Staal is a quick-thinking forward with excellent playmaking abilities…. good stickhandler with a quick wrist shot…. backchecking is one of Staal’s stronger areas – he can shadow the top offensive forwards”.
These sentiments are typical of Staal. Widely viewed as one of the best “safe” picks in the draft due mostly to his size, skating ability, and strong two-way play. Add in the fact that he has room for even more growth in his offensive game and the fact that he is a burgeoning leader, and Staal’s value could still grow. At present, Staal likely will be drafted in the 5-10 spot of the draft, battling it out with the likes of Brown, Fleury and Zach Parise. However, Dole had some advice for Staal if he wishes to improve his stock at the draft; “In order to take his game to the next level, Eric still must gain more strength and he will do this once he fully grows into his frame”. Still, at 6’3 and 190lbs, Staal already does an adequate job of protecting the puck from would be checkers. While he might not able to do that at the NHL level yet, the odds are that he will be back in junior next year anyways, so this gives Staal plenty of time to hit the gym to improve in that area. Add in the fact that Staal is viewed as being a very heads up sort of player and person; he should be alright handling his future on and off the ice.
While scout reports don’t always mention what kind of guy the player might be away from the rink, it can be very important. Some GM’s can be scared away by a kid who is a disturber or trouble maker off the ice. The thinking is simple, if this kid acts like this now, what will happen when he hits the fame and fortune of the pro leagues. He could be uncontrollable. A perfect example of this is Alexander Volchkov who was drafted 4th overall by the Washington Capitals in the 1996 entry draft. After many suspensions and one incident in junior where half the team wanted to literally kill him, Volchkov ended up being traded and then heading back to junior a total bust with 2 NHL games under his belt. Thankfully, Staal has been able to avoid that reputation thus far. Liked by all his teammates, Staal has been able to handle the pressure of trying to be a leader on the ice at just 17 with the pressure of an ever-nearer NHL Entry Draft which will make him a very rich man.
Staal is quite possibly the most overlooked player in the draft. While Nathan Horton seems to get most of the attention in the OHL, Staal is virtually his equal on any night. In fact, when the two went head to head on December 1st in Oshawa, Staal outplayed Horton while netting a goal in the effort. If this was last year, Staal would be getting votes for the number one overall pick. However, with some surefire offensive gems like Horton and Nikolai Zherdev, Staal is likely to trail in the afterglow of these players. Still, with comparisons to players like Dany Heatley of Atlanta, Staal will still make some team very happy in June when he strolls across the podium to don an NHL jersey. Given the chance to develop at his own pace and grow into body he has been given, Staal could become one of the most dominate two-way players of the next decade.