Jared Staal says he now knows what it takes to be a NHLer.
After languishing in the minor leagues trying to find his way in professional hockey, the youngest of four hockey-playing brothers got a taste of life in the big leagues, suiting up for the final two games of the Carolina Hurricanes season alongside older brothers Eric and Jordan.
It’s a moment he’ll never forget, the 22-year-old said Thursday before teeing off at the annual Thunder Bay Celebrity Hockey Golf Classic.
It also caught him by surprise.
Staal said he wasn’t sure what Charlotte Checkers coach Jeff Daniels wanted when he summoned the fourth-year pro to his office late in the American Hockey League season.
“He ended up telling me I was going to go up and play the last two games of the season with Carolina. It was kind of a surreal feeling. I was really excited and for the next hour I was kind of shaking a little bit before I could control myself and really realize what was going on,” Staal said.
Not only did he get to play, but he wound up in the starting line-up alongside Eric and Jordan, both high first-round draft picks, who along with brother Marc of the New York Rangers, took the direct route to the NHL.
“I didn’t really expect that either. I thought they were going to slide me in somewhere on the fourth line or so. I guess they talked about and said why not put all three of us in the starting lineup,” Staal said.
“It probably made me a little bit more nervous, but at least I got my first shift out of the way early and went from there.”
Surprisingly, he said, the pace wasn’t much different from the AHL.
“It wasn’t as big a jump as I thought it was going to be. There’s obviously really good players in the NHL and it’s a little bit faster and the defencemen are a little bit stronger. But as the game went on I felt a little more comfortable and I didn’t really feel out of place.”
Of course, having a pair of brothers, each with Stanley Cup wins under their belts, to guide him made things that much easier.
“It was pretty special for him for myself, for him, for my parents, for a lot of people from Thunder Bay. It was pretty cool,” said older brother Eric, the Hurricanes captain, a nine-season NHL veteran.
“It was a great opportunity for him. I kind of opened his eyes to see what he needs to do to stay at that level. And I think for him personally, it probably made him think that if he does the right things in the summer with his training, and can come into camp and do the right things at training camp, he’ll have an opportunity to play in this league.”
First and foremost, he has to ink a new deal with the Hurricanes.
An unrestricted free agent, the youngest Staal, drafted 49th overall by Phoenix in 2008, said he thinks it’s only a matter of time.
“I’ve just been talking to Carolina a little bit. Hopefully we’ll get a deal done soon. I don’t know what the timeline is. But we’re talking right now.”
Staal, a graduate of the Sudbury Wolves, finished with no points in his two-game NHL call-up and had four goals and three assists in 52 games with the Checkers.