Everyone was expecting Eric Staal to be moved by deadline day, but the fact that he has landed in New York with the Rangers might be just what the veteran forward needed to get his box score production going. He has long been a target in fantasy hockey because of his “shoot first and ask questions later” approach to offensive zone play, but his numbers have been down this season in Carolina.
Despite the former Hurricanes’ captain being projected as a top 100 fantasy player by many experts, he was 172nd in actual rank in standard scoring categories before his Rangers’ debut on the 29th. Staal’s disappointing fantasy value can be directly tied to playing on a bad team and his surprisingly low shooting percentage of 6.3 percent. Not surprisingly, that is the lowest shooting percentage of Staal’s career.
The presence of some noteworthy playmakers on the Rangers including Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Keith Yandle, and Derek Stepan should help Staal’s shooting percentage climb in March and April.
In the fall ESPN’s fantasy experts projected Staal to have a good fantasy season (not an “elite” one) with Carolina, but he put up just 33 points and 159 shots with the Hurricanes — well below his projected totals. What stands out most of all is the fact that he has just one power play goal and nine even strength goals in 63 games while playing in Carolina’s top six. The eldest Staal has never been considered an “elite” goal scorer, but he was considered a lock for 20 goals this season. As things stand today, the odds are against him having his tenth 20 goal season.
There has been a great deal of talk that Rangers’ head coach Alain Vigneault expects Staal to be slotted in as a center in New York’ lineup. If he is used at center he could find himself taking draws on the third line and enjoying some sheltered ice time in addition to a spot on one of the Rangers’ power play units.
When star forward Rick Nash returns from his bone bruise injury that story might change, and if it does it could be good news for Staal’s fantasy owners. On the wing, Staal would shift to one of the top lines, meaning that the quality of his linemates would improve dramatically. He could soon find himself on the ice with Nash and Stepan or Brassard and Zuccarello at even strength.
What Staal’s fantasy managers should be keeping an eye on is how Alain Vigneault uses his newest weapon. Staal’s big body and good hands might soon find themselves parked in front of the net on the top power play unit in New York and if that is the case he might grab a few more power play goals before the fantasy season and playoffs come to a close.
The other statistic to keep a close eye on is Staal’s shooting rate in New York. Last season Staal averaged 3.17 shots per game on the Hurricanes top line, but this season he put just 2.52. Playing on a better team with better linemates will likely lead to an increase in Staal’s shooting rate which is something that will have a significant impact on his fantasy value. With any luck, his shooting percentage will also climb.
Staal is under 80 percent owned in both Yahoo! and CBS fantasy hockey leagues, which is hardly surprising considering the depth at the center position in fantasy hockey (although he is categorized as a left wing in CBS leagues) and his modest production in his age 31 season. However, the number of fantasy owners that are grabbing Staal after the Rangers acquisition seems to be climbing by the hour for good reason.
If Staal clicks in the Rangers’ top six forward group and gets the power play ice time expected, his fantasy value will improve a great deal. And considering what the Rangers’ goals for per sixty minutes rate looks like compared to the league average, his plus-minus rating should no longer be dragging his fantasy value down.
Will the change of scenery and some talented teammates be enough to turn Staal’s season around and give his fantasy managers something to smile about? Only time will tell, but it appears that he is a good horse to bet on.