Q&A with Eric Staal

Eric Staal Staal

With the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL entry draft, the Pittsburgh Penguins passed on forward Eric Staal and drafted goaltender Marc-André Fleury.

Instead, the Carolina Hurricanes took the crafty center with the next pick. In this week's Facing Off, the rising star discusses his coming of age in the NHL, playing in a city dominated by college basketball and what could be a developing family rivalry.

Question from David Amber: You grew up on a sod farm in Thunder Bay [Ontario]. What do you remember most about that experience?

Answer from Staal: Probably making money. I worked as a kid and got paid. The farm was about 500 acres; I had to mow, cut the grass and lay sod. I had a chance to buy things other kids didn't get a chance to buy. I bought a go-kart, a dirt bike, and that was pretty cool for me. I worked for my father and uncle every summer from the time I was 7 until I was drafted.

Q: Your younger brother Marc was drafted 12th overall by the Rangers this year. You were drafted second by the Canes, so do you hold that over him?

A: I don't say too much, but other people joke with him. He plays defense, so it's hard to compare, it all depends on what teams are looking for.

Q: How much do you look forward to going one-on-one against your brother in the NHL?

A: That would be something special. It would be fun going up against him. Hopefully, I could give him a little shake and get by, I look forward to that day.

Q: You're the oldest of four boys. How competitive were you and your brothers growing up?

A: We didn't have fistfights or anything, but we had an outdoor rink at the farm with boards and lights and we would play two-on-two. Me and my youngest brother [15-year-old Jared] would play against the two middle ones [18-year-old Marc and 17-year-old Jordan], and it would get pretty heated; there were some sticks thrown, but it was all part of growing up I guess.

Q: What do you remember most from draft day?

A: Probably just hearing my name called and then standing up and everyone looking at you 'cause all the attention is on you at that moment. It was a pretty cool moment for me. I had the inside scoop that I was going to go second overall. I had a good idea that Pittsburgh was going to take Marc-André Fleury first overall, but I'm glad to be where I'm at now.

Q: Do you ever look back and think Pittsburgh made a mistake by not drafting you?

A: [Laughs] Sure, why not. I think every player is competitive and wants to be the best when they play against a team that didn't choose them. But I think Marc-André is going to be a great goaltender for that team. Going No. 1 would have been nice, but things have worked out all right, so I can't complain.

Q: As a kid, you grew up idolizing Wayne Gretzky, but you've never met him. When you play the Coyotes, are you going to go up and say hi before the game starts?

A: No, probably not. I'm not that type of guy. I'm too shy to do something like that. But when I get on the ice against his team, I'm going to try my best to win and show him my stuff.

Q: College basketball is huge in North Carolina. So, which team do you cheer for: North Carolina, Duke or NC State?

A: I've got to go with the Wolfpack because we play in the same arena as they do. It's pretty unbelievable around here. I went to a game at Duke … it was a wild scene, but I've got to say I cheer for the Wolfpack.

Q: If I were to tell you a year ago that one month into the NHL season you would be leading the league in points, what would you say [Staal is now tied for second overall with 26 points]?

A: I would probably chuckle. Our whole hockey team has started well and that's a big part of my individual success. For me, just another year of developing and becoming stronger and more confident has helped me get more comfortable to try new things on the ice. Before, I would just skate down and shoot because I was afraid of getting yelled at for doing something. I think I'm just more confident on the ice and it's just snowballing into the way I'm playing right now.

Q: You spent the lockout playing for Lowell in the AHL. From a lifestyle standpoint, what's the biggest difference between playing in the AHL and NHL?

A: There's a big difference. In the NHL, you're flying on chartered jets; in the AHL, you're riding the bus. The NHL is the best league in the world with the best players, and being up here is unbelievable. It's where you want to stay.

Q: You were named the NHL player of the week for Oct. 24-30, what do you get for that?

A: I have to buy lunch for the boys on the team, that's what I get to do now [laughs]. I have no idea if they give you anything specific -- they haven't yet -- but it was a great honor.

Q: Through October, you're on pace to collect 164 points this season. Knowing that, what's your individual goal this year?

A: I don't have any specific goals. I don't know if I'm going to get 160 points. I just want to contribute offensively as much as I can to help our team score goals; that's my main focus.

Q: You turned 21 on Oct. 29. That night, you had a career-high four assists against Mario and the Pens. What was that like?

A: That was awesome. We were down 3-1 going into the third period, and we just came back and everything was clicking. The power play came up with some big goals, and to be able to get four assists against them was something special. I'll remember my 21st birthday for that for the rest of my life.

Q: Now that you're 21, you're legal in the States. Have you put your first order in for Molson Canadian?

A: [Laughs] Yeah, we came back from Pittsburgh and I actually went out for a beer with my dad and a couple of the other players and their dads, it was fun. The drinking age is 19 back in Ontario, but it's 21 here, so now I'm legal everywhere.

David Amber is an anchor for ESPN and a contributor to ESPN.com.