Marc Staal #18 of the Rangers skates with the puck...

Marc Staal #18 of the Rangers skates with the puck against the Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac


Marc Staal has a birthday coming up this month. The defenseman will be 33 on Jan. 13, and 13 seasons into his NHL career, he knows what that means.

The end is near.

“Yeah, for sure,’’ Staal said a few days ago when asked if he contemplates the inevitable end of his career. “I think, obviously, you get in and around that age, you start seeing the end come a little closer. But I think, for me, if I can stay healthy and continue to play at a high level, I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can. And see when it ends.’’

It could end as soon as this summer. Staal has one year remaining on his contract after this season, at a cap hit of $5.7 million. But the Rangers, coming up on two years since they announced their organizational rebuild, could buy him out.

The Rangers have some highly regarded defense prospects coming: 2018 first-round picks K’Andre Miller, currently playing at the University of Wisconsin, and Nils Lundkvist, currently having a fine season in the Swedish Hockey League, could join the organization next season. Yegor Rykov already is here, learning the North American game at the AHL level with Hartford. Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek, both 21, already are on the team.

Staal saw longtime defense partner Dan Girardi bought out by the Rangers a few summers ago, then saw Kevin Shattenkirk bought out last summer. He is well aware that he could suffer the same fate this summer, and he didn’t flinch when he talked about it.

“I think the longer you play, the more you realize a lot of that stuff is out of your control,’’ he said. “So for me, I enjoy coming to the rink. I have a lot of fun when I’m here. I love competing. And when and if that stuff happens, you just deal with it.

“I’ve learned it’s just easier on your mind, easier on the people around you, better for the team if you just focus on what you’re doing each day.’’

If he is bought out, Staal — who sat out three games as a healthy scratch for the first time in his career back in late October/early November and then missed 13 games after having ankle surgery — said he’d be willing to play for another team if he’s still healthy.

“If someone’s willing to give me a job, I’ll keep on playing,’’ he said.

So-called advanced statistics never flatter the 6-4, 209-pound Staal, and he is a favorite whipping boy for some fans on social media. But his standard statistics — two goals, three assists, five points, 12 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of plus-3 in 24 games entering Saturday — are just fine for a defensive-minded, crease-clearing, second-pair defenseman.

Coach David Quinn trusts Staal enough that when he benched two defensemen Thursday night in the Rangers’ loss to Calgary, he leaned on Staal to pick up the slack, giving him a season-high 22:12 in ice time.

As the Rangers begin the second half of their season (Saturday’s game against the Canucks was their 41st), there is no one on the team more desperate to make the playoffs than Staal. If this is going to be his last year with the Rangers, he’d love to at least get back to the postseason.

“It’s been a couple years and it’s something I’m not used to,’’ he said. “It’s something I miss greatly when you’re watching it on TV. It’s hard to watch, almost, because you want to be out there competing and giving yourself a chance to win the Cup. So yeah, I mean, that’s what it’s all about.’’

Rykov impresses Fogarty

Steven Fogarty, who was called up from AHL Hartford before the road trip to replace Brendan Lemieux (out with a broken hand), was able to give a quick evaluation of Rykov, who missed all of training camp and the first two months of the season with a high ankle sprain.

“He’s been a real pleasant surprise,’’ Fogarty said of Rykov, a 6-2, 210-pound, left-shooting Russian. “We weren’t really sure, because he’s been hurt from the start of the year. But from the second he stepped in the lineup, he’s been a difference-maker. He’s so smart. The little plays he makes look simple, but they’re big plays and make a huge difference. And he’s getting power-play time now, and I think his role is just increasing day by day.’’

Entering Saturday’s game against Utica, Rykov had no goals, seven assists and no penalty minutes in 12 games.