ANAHEIM, Calif. — Marc Staal found out on social media that Tuesday’s shootout win in San Jose was his 773rd game played for the Rangers, moving him past Adam Graves into 10th place on the franchise list by a non-goalie.
“I’ve got a family foundation Instagram,’’ Staal said. “My brother and his wife put it up, and that’s how I found out about it.’’
To Staal, all that particular note meant was that he’s been around a long time.
The 6-4, 213-pound defenseman, the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2005, is 31 and in his 12th NHL season, all with the Rangers. He has modest career scoring numbers of 38 goals and 127 assists, but his game has evolved. Once a two-way player who used to see time on the power play and who scored 20 goals in his first four seasons, he became a stay-at-home veteran who scored once in 72 games in 2017-18 and hasn’t come close to scoring in his first 12 games this season.
Before the season, new coach David Quinn named Staal one of the team’s five alternate captains — the only one who will wear the alternate “A” for both home and away games.
This was a year after Staal had to battle just to make the team, after then-coach Alain Vigneault hinted at the start of training camp that he might not. Staal went on to have a strong season in which he led the team in plus/minus at plus-11.
Realistically, it probably was only his contract ($5.7 million per year through 2020-21) that prevented the Rangers from trading Staal at last season’s trade deadline roster purge. But entering Thursday night’s game against the Ducks, which closed out the Rangers’ four-game road trip, Staal was one of three Rangers defensemen to have played every game this season (Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith were the others).
“He’s just a leader,’’ said his regular defense partner, Neal Pionk. “He helps us — especially a young defenseman like myself. Everyone’s going to struggle from time to time, but he’s kind of reassuring back there and he puts me under his wing.’’
Staal bristles a little, though, at the notion that his primary value to the team these days is as some kind of elder statesman. He insists he can still play the game.
“Everyone talks about age and whatever — I’m 31, and I still feel really good, and I have a lot of years left,’’ he said. “Everyone talks about it, but they never talked about my brother [Eric]. When he was here, he was 32 or 33, and they were asking questions about him. And look what he did.’’
Eric Staal, 34, scored 42 goals last season for the Minnesota Wild.
With the Rangers in rebuild mode, several veterans currently on the team figure to be on the move before the Feb. 25 trade deadline, but Staal, with two more seasons on his contract after this one, wouldn’t figure to be one of them. However, the Rangers have stockpiled young defensemen through trades and the draft, so whether Staal will be around when the rebuilding is over is to be determined.
“The way I look at it is, I’m a part of it right now,’’ he said. “So I come to the rink every day like I have and work hard and be a good teammate and try to get wins. I really don’t like thinking too far ahead.’’
Notes & quotes: Alexandar Georgiev started in net against the Ducks . . . D Adam McQuaid (lower body), who was injured in the first game of the trip, missed his third straight game . . . RW Pavel Buchnevich sat out his second straight game as a healthy scratch.