Lost in the Sidney Crosby concussion hubbub that has gone on for almost a year is the fact that the New York Rangers have been without arguably their best defenseman Marc Staal, for quite some time due to lingering effects caused by a concussion. This week however, the 24-year-old Staal cleared yet another hurdle in his long awaited return, as he was cleared to participate in drills and contact with his fellow teammates. This leaves the question of whether or not he might be ready for the biggest regular season game the Rangers have this season – the Winter Classic.
Staal sustained the concussion last February courtesy of his brother Eric Staal, who delivered a big open ice hit on his brother. He has not felt right since but has progressively made improvements and was given the okay for contact by Dr. Robert Cantu after last week’s rigorous practice schedule which included several two-a-days.
"Today I felt fully confident going on the ice and taking some hits. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that that wasn't the right thing to do with the way I was feeling," Staal told ESPN.
Staal made it clear after mixing it up with his fellow teammates that he felt fine. The biggest issue with his return now seems to be conditioning. Since he has not played in quite some time, Staal feels as though he’s not at full strength for the battles along the boards.
"I still need some more work. I don't feel as if I'm ready to play 25 minutes a night like I was last year," he added. "I feel a lot stronger on the ice. It's starting to come but nowhere it needs to be yet."
The Rangers could certainly use Staal right about now as their defense is decimated because of injuries. New York is still waiting for the return of Michael Sauer, Steve Eminger and Jeff Woywitka – all of whom will have missed significant time by the time they return. Staal has never been an offensive juggernaut but his return would give New York another strong skating defenseman who can win the one-on-one battles in the defensive zone, something the Rangers could use.
Currently, the Rangers are tied with the Philadelphia Flyers atop the Atlantic Division and with the much anticipated Winter Classic less than a week today; we could see Staal play minimum ice time. His doctor has hinted that although it’s possible he could play at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia on Jan. 2, it does not appear all that likely.
The Rangers just hope he is ready in time to make a playoff run, because it would be a huge loss for New York if they have plan on making a run at the Stanley Cup.
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