The NHL needs to re-establish some semblance of a foothold in many major southern cities in the United States, and to do that the league needs to grab attention, and cultivate future fans. Call the All-Star Weekend fantasy draft a gimmick if you must, but there’s no better way to grab the interest of a generation that’s growing up in fantasyland, a world where they choose the teams, and Sidney Crosby can easily be paired with Jonathan Toews.
While we eagerly await who will be picked first–and more importantly, last–during the league’s first fantasy draft on Jan. 28, today the NHL unveiled the other 36 players who will be available to have their name called.
The fans already voted six players into the game (Crosby, Toews, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Duncan Keith, and Marc-Andre Fleury). They were joined today by the usual cast of no-brainers, with a handful of snubs left to use the four days to recover from injuries, catch up on family time, or plan creative ways to swoon girls behind their bench.
In a true sign of the NHL’s unofficial changing of the guard, 21 of the 42 players named to the roster will be suiting up for their first ever All-Star Weekend, 11 of which are forwards. This list includes easy choices like Steven Stamkos, Daniel Sedin and Dustin Byfuglien, players like Brent Burns who are finally experiencing a healthy season, and rising breakout stars like Claude Giroux and Matt Duchene.
The Ottawa Senators are a franchise in need of hope, and their lone representative has provided that touch of optimism in an otherwise frustrating and dreary season. Defenceman Erik Karlsson joins the list of first timers, and at the ripe age of 20 he ranks 16th in defensive scoring, ahead of Olympians like Keith, Shea Weber, and Drew Doughty. A defenceman being their second leading scorer is a reflection of Ottawa’s scoring struggle, but it’s also a testament to Karlsson’s consistency and rapid development.Karlsson was a surprise, but a pleasant one. In a game filled to the brim with youth he’s the player who had made the largest leap forward this season.
Meanwhile, Phil Kessel is the lone representative from a team that’s low on star power. His status as an elite goal-scorer has been restrained by a streaky stick. Kessel’s eighteen goals may lead the Leafs, but they’ve come over just 15 games. Kessel is the prime example of a player who scores in bunches, and at one point from the end of October to mid-December he scored three goals over 20 games. Kessel may be more of a household name, and was therefore a safe pick, but his sizzling teammate Mikhail Grabovski would have been far more intriguing to watch.
The list of unpleasant surprise inclusions is short (see: non-existent), but the exclusions are another matter, and it’s interesting that the Red Wings and Flyers–two of the league’s top three teams–have a combined two representatives. Daniel Briere is easily on pace for a career scoring high, with his 21 goals putting him ahead of Kessel, Rick Nash, Eric Staal, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, and Jarome Iginla, all of whom were named.
Equally notable is the absence of Henrik Zetterberg, whose 49 points put him ahead of a similar list of all-stars. Zetterberg and his injured teammate Pavel Datsyuk were two of only four players currently occupying the top-20 in points who didn’t get the nod.
All-Star weekend is about entertainment just as much as it is a showcase of skill. Zetterberg can sure bring some personality, and nothing says entertainment to me quite like photos in prison uniforms on the beach.
But hey, I suppose this one is for all the Tostitos, so maybe there was good reason for the exclusions. What? That’s baseball, and this is a totally meaningless afternoon game of shinny? Well, here’s to hoping the cabbie survives after Patrick Kane gets picked last.