Eric Staal is back in professional hockey. Although it might not be for long.
The 37-year-old returned to pro game by signing a professional tryout offer with the Iowa Wild, AHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild, on Thursday morning, marking Staal’s first stint back in the American League since he suited up for the Lowell Lock Monsters in 2004-05, a whopping 17 years ago.
Staal, of course, has some familiarity with the Wild organization, having played four seasons in Minnesota between 2016-2019 during which he racked up 240 points in 311 games.
And while this may very well be the precursor to an NHL comeback for Staal, who has not played this season after splitting the 2021 campaign between the Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens, it most likely serves foremost as an opportunity for the veteran center to work his way back into playing shape before heading to Beijing to compete for Team Canada at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
After the NHL withdrew its participation in the Games back in December, Staal became one of the external favorites to be named to the team, with the Wild now offering him a chance to regain his feel for high-level hockey with their AHL affiliate.
Nothing is for certain, however.
Perhaps a strong showing during his PTO, followed by an impressive Olympic performance, could be enough to entice an NHL team to take a flier on the former Stanley Cup winner. Staal mustered just 13 points in 53 games last season.
For now, though, he’s likely focused solely on preparing to hunt for Gold in Beijing.