Confident Staal makes steady improvement

March, 2, 2013
3/02/13
9:57
PM ET
Marc StaalRichard Wolowicz/Getty ImagesDefenseman Marc Staal has recorded two goals and nine assists for the Rangers this season.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. --For Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, his improvement on the offensive side of the puck correlates with confidence.

"I'm feeling confident with the puck when I'm out there. If I can be solid defensively and add (offense) in whenever I can, if the game allows it to, I know I will," Staal said Saturday. "Always room for improvement so you're always looking to improve."

As he contributes rock-solid defense like usual this year, Staal is in the middle of perhaps his best offensive season with the Rangers. He has two goals and nine assists thus far, which in a normal season would put him on course to easily surpass his career-best points total of 29 in 2010-11.

"Every game has a different feel to it of what type of game it is and if there are opportunities to jump in or if they have great offensive people that you have to be mindful of," Staal said. "I think it's just knowing when the opportunity is there and taking it."

Staal has always been cognizant of improving his skills on the offensive end, although a concussion he suffered in 2011 hampered that development. Staal said he came back too early in the 2010-11 season, which limited his effectiveness down the stretch, and he then missed 36 games last year with concussion-like symptoms. He finished the season with just two goals and three assists, the worst numbers of his career.

This year, as he's further removed from that concussion, Staal has progressed on both ends, although it's more notable offensively. He's earned high praise from Rangers coach John Tortorella his play thus far this season.

"I think he's handled himself very well," Tortorella said. "He came back and we slowly brought him along. As far as putting him into the pairs, I think at first he might have a been a little frustrated with it because he played with Danny (Girardi) for so long, but he's handled himself very well and just continued to work at his game and it continues to improve."

FORMER COACH
: As the Rangers keep tabs on the development of rookie J.T. Miller, they can extend some gratitude to the opposing coach on Sunday, Buffalo's Ron Rolston. Rolston, who recently took over in Buffalo after the dismissal of Lindy Ruff, coached Miller on the United States under-18 squad.

"He's one of the big influences to who I am today, he taught me how to play hockey. Just all the ins and outs and how to be professional," Miller said. "Even away from the rink, he taught me things I thought I'd never understand and it's really nice to see he's at the professional level because he deserves it and he's a great coach and very professional at what he does, and it'll be great to play against him."

NASH UPDATE: Rangers forward Rick Nash, who returned Thursday against Tampa Bay after missing four games with an undisclosed injury, said he is feeling good and everything is on the right track health wise. Nash had a goal and an assist in the win over the Lightning, and leads the Rangers with 14 points.

NO ASHAM
: Forward Arron Asham (back spasms) was the lone Ranger not practicing. He's missed the past four games.

Matt Ehalt

ESPN New York contributor

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