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Rangers' Marc Staal healthy; can he return to form?

Marc Staal skates wearing a visor against the

Marc Staal skates wearing a visor against the Washington Capitals during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden. (May 6, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Last March, Marc Staal lay writhing on the ice at Madison Square Garden, blood pouring from near his right eye after he was hit by a shot that deflected off a Flyer's stick.

With a retinal tear and fractured orbital bone, the 26-year-old defenseman missed two months and initially was concerned about whether his career was over.

The Rangers closed the regular season with a 13-9-2 mark, and Staal, who missed the team as much as they missed him, returned to the lineup for Game 3 of the playoffs against the Washington Capitals.

But his eyesight wasn't clear. He saw himself as a liability. So Staal shut himself down for the rest of the postseason.

As his vision continued to improve, Staal began skating two times a week in early July with his brothers at home in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Wearing a slightly tinted visor, he has been scrimmaging at the Rangers' voluntary practices for the past week.

"I physically feel great, probably the best I've felt in a couple years, and I'm ready to go," Staal said Thursday. "When I skated the first time there [in Canada], compared to when I was trying to come back and play, it was almost like night and day. That was good, it was encouraging . . .

"It's like I've adapted to it, kind of my brain just rewired itself. I was having trouble with the depth perception early, things were moving quickly around me, and I was having trouble tracking and staying focused on what I was doing. From then until now, it's a huge difference. I don't notice anything at all."

Staal, who missed half of the 2011-12 season with a concussion, had rebounded with 11 points in 21 games before the eye injury. Former coach John Tortorella said the alternate captain's play was the best he had seen in four years.

Now the question arises: Can Staal, an All-Star in 2011, return to top form and provide a significant boost to the Rangers? He thinks so, declaring that he has no lingering concerns. Even the sensitivity to light is almost gone.

"I've put it all behind me, turned the page," said Staal, who was invited to Canada's Olympic orientation camp last month. "After it happened, you can't see anything, and that's scary. But once the sight started coming back and the first time I skated, I knew I'd be able to play again.

"I'm healthy and looking forward to start the season fresh. After this summer and getting those skates in and feeling the way I did, it was motivation to get back to a high level."

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