One thing is obvious in the early days of Detroit Red Wings training camp: their defense looks much bigger and better.
Staal, 33, was an especially savvy addition. He adds the experience of having played 892 games for the New York Rangers; he’s a hulking 6-foot-4, 209 pounds and plays like it. After the initial shock of being booted by the only NHL team he’s known — and a heart-to-heart with Yzerman — Staal has embraced the opportunity to help stabilize a team that finished last season in 31st place.
“It’s been a good couple weeks,” Staal said Sunday. “I came down with my family around the 15th and had Christmas here. They’re back home in Connecticut right now. It’s been a lot of fun coming to the rink. The last few days have been tough practices; guys work hard, some good energy around the rink. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m excited to be here and be a part of this thing.
“I’m looking forward to getting through camp and getting the season off on the right foot.”
Three days into camp, Staal has been partnered with Patrik Nemeth, a 6-3, 228-pound stay-at-home type. The two could draw top shut-down duties. Staal is a physical guy who likes to battle in front of the net, and Nemeth is a strong guy who makes smart plays.
“Both of them have done it at different times in their careers,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “They’re big men. They can create puck stalls, they can defend well. They both play pretty efficient hockey.”
Danny DeKeyser and Filip Hronek already have a history together, and the other pairing is Stecher and Merrill. If all three click, it would ease the burden on DeKeyser and Hronek.
That’s especially needed for DeKeyser, who has not played since October 2019.
“Certainly to start the season, it’s going to be more a group of six than a top pair and that pair is defending against the other team’s best every night,” Blashill said. “I think it will be more a group of six. Our strength on the D-corps will be the consistency between the three pairs. That’s what I hope we are able to bring. All that combined would ease some of the burden on DK and Fil. DK has been out a long time, so we’re going to watch his minutes.”
Acquiring Staal has looked like a winning move for Yzerman since the trade was made. In return for taking the remaining one-year, $5.7 million cap hit off the Rangers’ hands, Yzerman netted the rebuild a 2021 second-round pick. And if Staal plays well, he likely will be flipped around the April 12 trade deadline for another draft pick.
Helm unfit ELM UNFIT
The NHL decided last year to use the term “unfit” if a player was unable to practice or play — it was a way to avoid announcing whether a player had an illness as COVID-19 first took hold. Darren Helm became the first Wings player to have that designation, as Blashill described Helm as “unfit to practice” Sunday.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Red Wings already look bigger, meaner thanks to Marc Staal