The team said Wednesday that the 25-year-old All-Star center, recently named to Canada's Olympic team, has replaced veteran Rod Brind'Amour as team captain.
General manager Jim Rutherford says the switch comes as part of the team's rebuilding process. Staal becomes the 13th player to serve as captain in the history of the franchise.
"The time has come now for Eric to assume the top leadership role for his teammates," Rutherford said in a statement.
The Hurricanes, who reached the Eastern Conference finals last season, entered Wednesday night's games with an NHL-worst 35 points.
Brind'Amour had been the captain since 2005 and led the team to its only Stanley Cup in 2006. Rutherford says the 39-year-old will take Staal's spot as an alternate captain and will continue to hold a leadership role.
Staal is second on the team with 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists) despite missing 10 games in November with an upper-body injury.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.