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2014 Report Card: With a clean bill of health, Marc Staal returns to his old, reliable self

After battling back from freak injuries, Marc Staal looked like the Marc Staal of old this season, which is great news for the Rangers.

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time (or times) when Marc Staal's future in the NHL was in jeopardy. It began under the strangest of circumstances, when brother Eric delivered a high hit that sidelined the younger Marc with a concussion back in 2011. Then last season, finally looking like he was returning to form, Staal took a puck to the eye in an incident to gruesome too link back to. With his vision impaired, Staal would later admit to not knowing if the freak incident would result in an end to his pro hockey career.

But in 2013-14, Staal's eye healed to the point where he could resume playing. There was another brief concussion scare, but Staal appeared in 72 games this season, a huge affirmation his playing days aren't numbered. Let's take a deeper look at Staal's season.

Returned physicality

A major question facing a player who has suffered one or multiple concussions is will it make him more hesitant in the future? Add in Staal's aforementioned horrendous eye injury, and there were plenty asking whether the formerly physical Staal could play up to his own standards upon returning. Well, Staal answered all of those questions, and did so rather resoundingly. He showed no signs of ware, and even more impressively, continued to be a great puck mover. A major part of Staal's game is his ability to make a play in his own zone, and then generate a rush by using his skating ability and vision. The latter element was for sure a big unknown entering this season, but playing in Alain Vigneault's system, Staal flourished in his return. The assists weren't quite there (11), but there were moments when it was clear Staal's skill set was as present as ever.

Staal also excelled in driving possession this season. He registered a Coris rel of 3.5% at 5v5, and 54.4 overall CF%. The big question for Staal now though is what happens if you take Anton Stralman out of the equation? Staal's CF% dipped nearly eight points when he was without Stralman, although, there might be something to be said about who Staal was paired with in those situations. (Say it was Dan Girardi? Staal's CF% when paired with Girardi was 45.3%, compared to the 55% it was without him.) Given those possession numbers, and given what Staal has shown, another year under Vigneault probably comes with more offensive improvement as he grows accustom to an uptempo system.

Captain Staal?

... Probably not, but Staal's leadership—one of those fuzzy things that can't be measured by any statistic—has been paramount to the Rangers. After trading former captain Ryan Callahan, Staal was one of three players (Brad Richards and Dan Girardi) who were alternate captains through the Stanley Cup round. While Richards was made out to be the de facto captain, Staal was one of the most tenured Rangers, and a major presence in the locker room.

Contract status

While Staal still has the final year remaining on a five-year contract in which he'll earn $5.45 million, the Rangers have indicated the desire to negotiate an extension with Staal over the summer. This most likely stems from the team's inability to re-sign Ryan Callahan while negotiating during the regular season, and not wanting to lose Staal. His previous contract paid him just under $4 million per year, and it's likely an extension for Staal could be in the range of what Dan Girardi inked: a long-term deal that pays $5.5 million per.