GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Given the frightening toll concussions have taken in the NHL — including the game’s biggest superstar Sidney Crosby — the Rangers are playing it safe with top defenseman Marc Staal.
The team is holding him out of scrimmages for post-concussion-like symptoms as a precaution.
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Staal’s issues stem from a hit sustained during a game last February. The offender? His own brother, Eric, who plays for the Carolina Hurricanes.
“He can skate, he’s cleared for contact, everything’s all set. We just want to hold him back a little bit and try to clear it up and get him ready for the regular season,” coach John Tortorella said while briefing reporters on Staal’s status Sunday.
Although Staal passed baseline tests both last season and heading into this week’s training camp, the 24-year-old experienced headaches during his offseason training.
“As he was working out this summer, he talked to (head athletic trainer Jim Ramsay) and said it was still there a little bit,” Tortorella said.
Although Staal will not scrimmage during training camp or participate in any of the Rangers’ three North American exhibition games, Tortorella foresees him playing a “couple” of games while the team is overseas in Europe.
Tortorella also expects him to play opening night Oct. 7 against the Kings in Stockholm, Sweden, but given the uncertainty with head injuries, could not say definitively.
“It’s well-chronicled the stuff that goes on with this,” Tortorella said. “We want to make sure. I can’t say ‘Yeah he’s playing.'”
Staal is the most recent among hockey’s elite to be affected by post-concussion symptoms.
Crosby and Boston’s Marc Savard are two of the most harrowing examples. Crosby has yet to be cleared for contact after suffering a concussion last January; Savard’s career remains in jeopardy after sustaining two concussions in a matter of 10 months over the past two seasons.
Staal suffered the concussion Feb. 22 in the team’s 4-3 shootout win over Carolina after a devastating blow from his brother during the second period.
The Thunder Bay, Ontario native also suffered a knee injury from the hit and missed three games as a result. He was held out an additional two games the following month because, according to Tortorella, he “didn’t feel right.”
Tortorella said Staal is now “progressing nicely” and feeling good after the first few days of strenuous physical testing during Rangers training camp.
But the team doesn’t want to take any chances.
“We just want to be smart with a very big part of our puzzle,” Tortorella said.
Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPNNewYork.com.