Detroit — Marc Staal never has watched Moritz Seider play. He doesn’t know Seider, and has never talked to him.
But, Staal has heard the conversations surrounding the Red Wings’ top prospect, the expectations, and the excitement around Seider’s potential. Seider, a defenseman like Staal, will be a young player with a lot of eyes on him next season.
So, if, as expected, Seider makes the Wings’ lineup, who’ll be Seider’s defensive partner? It’ll be an intriguing question, and an important one, as Seider hasn’t played even a second of NHL hockey at the tender age of 20.
There is a line of thinking that Staal, an unrestricted free agent, would be a good fit.
And in his season-ending interview with reporters, Staal seemed to like the idea of being a sort of mentor to the young defenseman.
“I don’t know him at all,” Staal said during the Zoom call. “I’ve heard a bunch of good things over the last year. My best fit is playing with a skilled, right-hand shot defenseman (which Seider is, as Staal is a lefty) where I can make them feel as comfortable as possible, making plays, and be there in position for them.
“Communication is huge on the ice, talking, and I try to do that as much as possible with whoever I’m playing with. It helps some more with a young defenseman finding his way.”
The Wings acquired Staal, 34, from the New York Rangers in September in what mainly appeared to be a salary dump by the Rangers, who passed along a 2021 second-round draft pick to the Wings.
Staal had spent 13 years with the Rangers, but after a couple of uneven seasons and the organization entering a rebuild, it was good time for both sides to part ways.
As it turned out, the move to Detroit invigorated Staal, who showed he still very much can help a hockey team.
Staal was one of only two Wings (Filip Hronek was the other) who played in all 56 games during the condensed, rugged season, and never missed a practice.
“He’s a great pro in a lot of different ways,” coach Jeff Blashill said of Staal late in the regular season. “He’s a warrior. He plays through injuries and is out there on days where as an older player, potentially, could ask for maybe a practice off.
“He demands that he goes out there.”
Blashill also appreciated what Staal brought both on and off the ice, with Staal’s veteran savvy playing a big role.
“He’s very calm on the ice,” Blashill said. “He’s been through a lot of different things, so he calms our group down back there (on defense). He’s a really smart hockey player, so he can handle the chaos of hockey.
“We talk about structure, but there’s going to be chaos and you have to be able to handle it with your hockey smarts and he’s able to do that.
“He’s a good leader in the locker room. He’s demanding of guys doing it right, so he’s been somebody I’ve really been impressed with.”
Staal started his NHL career playing with veterans such as Michal Rozsival and Paul Mara, and felt playing with those older defensemen helped his own development.
“We had some guys that played a long time, and it’s just a comfort level being a young guy, being out there with a guy who has been through it,” Staal said. “It gets you through the ups and downs of the season and I believe it’s very helpful.
“And then just watching and learning and how you practice and prepare, all those things.”
Staal became a sort of spokesperson for the Wings’ defense, and a player whose opinion and voice carried importance around the locker room.
Staal was glad to pass along any sort of experience or motivation a younger roster needed.
“There’s times during the season or during a game where things can start getting away from you,” Staal said. “I’ve been on teams where maybe it doesn’t go well for you the first 20 (games) and that’s that, you kind of fold up and start to think about the next season. I was just trying to make sure we stayed consistent and working hard no matter what the circumstance was.
“I’ve been around a while, so any hope or positivity I can bring throughout a game I was willing to do that.”
The defense, Staal said, was a good group with which to work.
“It’s a fun (defense) corps to play with, a lot of great guys,” Staal said. “It’s not a lot of big, selfish personalities. Everyone is just wanting to play well and help the team win.”
Staal didn’t leave any doubt talking to reporters he’d be open to returning to the Wings, if a contract could be worked out.
General manager Steve Yzerman said the Wings will be looking for left-shot defenseman (such as Staal), and Staal’s intangibles and familiarity with the Wings are added benefits.
But Staal was equally intrigued about the idea of playing with his older brother Eric, who is also a prospective unrestricted free agent and currently starring for Montreal in the playoffs. Or, even with his brother Jordan, in Carolina.
Marc and Eric played 20 games together with the Rangers in 2016 after Eric was acquired by New York. The possibility to do so again would be another career highlight.
“That was fun,” Marc Staal said of his short time as Eric’s teammate. “When you have two brothers in the league, it’s always a possibility to try to play with one of them because it’s a pretty unique opportunity.”
Staal also says he believes the Wings are close to being a playoff team, which makes returning to Detroit exciting.
“I honestly don’t think we were far off from sniffing around the playoffs this year,” Staal said. “COVID kind of crushed us early and then we had some injuries along the way, and we were still able to put out a pretty solid effort.
“The future is bright for this organization. I can tell just being around the rink, the way things are being run, I think it’s all going in the right direction.”