GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Marc Staal said Friday that his mindset isn’t changing after Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said the veteran defenseman will be in a battle for ice time this season.
“It’s his opinion . . . this is my 11th season, I’m not naïve. I don’t take anything for granted. I come into camp with that mindset every year,” Staal said after some on-ice testing with other defensemen in training camp. “You’ve got to earn your minutes. It doesn’t change my mindset going forward. I’ve been a Ranger for a long time and I plan on being a Ranger for a lot more years.”
Staal’s message was that he doesn’t need the coach to remind him to raise his level.
Staal, 30, was not the same player after being injured in the Rangers’ 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 3. He was initially listed as having an upper-body issue, but the diagnosis changed to a concussion, and he was sidelined until Jan. 31. He finished the year with three goals and 10 assists in 72 games and seemed a step slower.
But Staal, who has been skating here for more than three weeks, spent much of the summer at home in Thunder Bay, Ontario, “taking some time to react and reflect,” he said, especially after the sting of losing to the Ottawa Senators in the second round of the playoffs.
“I think any time you lose like you do against a team like that in the second round, on a personal level, you need to be better, . . . that goes for me,” Staal said. “You want to be at your best getting into those situations. The goal this year is to build on that starting with today.”
With the top four defensemen presumably set — Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith and Brady Skjei — the opening for Staal, who says he is healthy and feels fresh, appears to be on the left side of the third pair and on the penalty kill.
Vigneault wasn’t counting Staal out, just saying he wants to see a rebound.
“I like Marc Staal, I believe in Marc Staal, but at the end of the day he’s fighting for a spot, and he knows it,” Vigneault said.
Staal indeed has some security. He has four seasons left on a six-year contract with an average salary cap charge of $5.7 million and a no-movement clause, which makes a trade unlikely, at least this season.