For most of last season, Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes still was groping with the reality his brother was gone.
Eric Staal was playing for the Minnesota Wild. Once the face of the Hurricanes franchise and their team captain, Staal first was traded to the New York Rangers late in the 2015-16 season, then signed as a free agent with the Wild after the season.
Many assumed Jordan Staal might be named the Canes’ captain with Eric’s departure. The big center seemed a logical choice. But the decision was made by Canes coach Bill Peters not to have a captain last season, instead making Jordan Staal, Justin Faulk, Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask alternate captains.
This season has brought a new designation: co-captains. Jordan Staal and Faulk have alternated in wearing the “C” — Staal in home games, Faulk on the road — and Staal said the unusual arrangement has worked out well.
“It’s been good,” Jordan Staal said in a recent interview. “There’s a little more off-the-ice stuff and ‘Faulker’ does some of that, as well, in working with the coaches. It’s been working fine, although I wasn’t expecting it to be anything crazy.”
Traded to Carolina from the Pittsburgh Penguins in June 2012, Jordan Staal signed a 10-year, $60 million contract extension and was determined to join his brother in leading the Hurricanes back into the Stanley Cup playoffs. That didn’t happen and Eric Staal was traded.
Having his brother gone stung and took a longer-than-expected adjustment time, Jordan Staal said.
“That was the biggest thing for me taking the ‘C’ and stuff,” he said. “That’s probably why it took as long as it did. I didn’t really feel comfortable.
“It’s still weird not having him here. At the same time, it’s been a long time now. It’s starting to feel like a different team, a new team.”
Jordan Staal will play his 800th career regular-season game Wednesday as the Hurricanes host the Montreal Canadiens at PNC Arena. Jordan Staal is 29, but that’s a lot of miles for any NHL player.
Playing on a line much of the season with a pair of Finns, Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho, has been energizing. Teravainen is 23 and Aho 20, both young and speedy.
“I hope I’m not old yet,” Staal said, smiling. “I’ve played enough games where I can get stagnant at times, and it’s definitely been fun with those two. They’re both driven to play the right way and do the right things.”
The so-called “TSA” line was a big part of the Canes going into the Christmas break with a 4-2 win Saturday over the Buffalo Sabres. Aho had a goal and assist, Staal scored and Teravainen tied his career high with three assists.
Staal’s goal was his third in the past five games and a greasy one, as the players say. On a Canes power play, a Teravainen pass glanced off Staal’s skate in front of the crease and into the net — Staal’s 10th of the season.
But Staal’s biggest value is in his two-way play. One of the NHL’s best in the faceoff circle, he won 11 of 14 draws against the Sabres, and he has a plus-2 rating for the season while often matching up against the other team’s best forwards.
Recently asked if Staal should get more consideration for the Selke Trophy, given annually to the NHL’s best defensive forward, Peters said, “The guys who know, know. They know his value. They know he’s a matchup problem most nights.”
Staal was ninth in the voting last season as Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins won.
“He’s a very versatile player,” Aho said. “He wins faceoffs, he wins a lot of battles, he’s a big body that creates a lot of space for me. He’s been good for me.”
Staal said at times he feels like the big brother on the line, the 6-4, 220-pound guy looking after the smaller Finns. Although not a brawler, Staal is willing to step in if an opponent starts getting in some cheap hits.
“They’re going to get targeted because teams know they’re talented,” Staal said. “I’ll help them out as best I can in that regard.”
Peters could break up the line — Teravainen hasn’t scored a goal in 16 games — but Staal would like to see TSA continue.
“It’s been fun playing with them,” he said. “I hope they like playing with me, too.”
Canadiens at Hurricanes
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh