If you’re the type that hates surprises, well, you were in luck this past weekend. When the NHL announced the four divisional captains for the 2020 All-Star Game in St. Louis, each player selected by way of a fan vote, the choices went about the way one might have expected.
League scoring leader Connor McDavid, of course, was selected to lead the Pacific Division. Prospective MVP Nathan MacKinnon was chosen to lead the Central Division. All-Star Game mainstay Alex Ovechkin, the greatest goal scorer of his generation and arguably in NHL history, went ahead and got the honor for the Metropolitan Division. Meanwhile, David Pastrnak, who has been in lockstep with the league’s leading scorers and is currently leading the Rocket Richard Trophy race by four goals, was selected to represent the Atlantic Division.
But, with the captains selected, now comes the fun part. With the two-day showcase set for Jan. 24-25 in St. Louis, the NHL’s Hockey Operations Department will be tasked with selecting the remaining players for each divisional all-star outfit in the coing weeks. Because it just so happened that each of the fan-selected captains are forwards, too, that means that the next selections will have to include five forwards, three defensemen and two goaltenders for each team, thus bringing the total divisional representatives to six forwards, three defensemen and two goaltenders apiece.
With four down, who will be the next 40 players picked for the event? Here’s a pre-holiday break look at which players could be heading to the skills competition and 3-on-3 tournament:
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins (C)
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
Tyler Bertuzzi, Detroit Red Wings
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens
Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs
This is a game of “How Many Bruins Do You Want To Send To St. Louis?” The answer, in this instance, is three, but that’s only because Boston can’t ice the entire roster. Have the Bruins been struggling lately? Absolutely. But that’s been in spite of Boston trotting out one of the most talented groups in the league. Heck, it feels like if David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand are going to the game, Patrice Bergeron should be right alongside them. He won’t be, however. Them’s the breaks when the roster is limited to six forwards.
The Snub: Aleksander Barkov is one of only a dozen players in the NHL who have 40 points heading into Monday’s action. He has formed one of the most lethal one-two offensive punches in the NHL alongside Huberdeau. The Panthers also find themselves keeping pace with the Maple Leafs, a projected divisional frontrunner, and that has been in large part thanks to the heavy lifting Barkov and Huberdeau have done. Yet, only one half of the duo heads to the showcase as part of this projection. It's simply a case of numbers. Given every team needs representation – and given there’s no Red Wings defenseman or goaltender deserving of a trip to all-star weekend – there’s no extra forward spot for Barkov.
The Controversial Pick: This ties into the above section directly, but Tyler Bertuzzi is far and away the lowest scoring forward on the list. Once again, though, it simply comes down to numbers and representation. The Red Wings have had very few bright spots, but Bertuzzi’s continued development is one of the rare positives in Detroit this season.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (C)
Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils
Mat Barzal, New York Islanders
Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers
Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers
Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins
Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes
Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders
Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets
Ovechkin gets to go to the game as the division captain, but is there an easier choice for an all-star appearance than Capitals defenseman John Carlson? He was never going to maintain his ridiculous 130-odd point pace, but we’re nearing the midpoint of the campaign and Carlson is still scoring at a more-than-100-point clip. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: if he even comes close, just cancel the Norris Trophy presentation and give him the hardware after Game 82.
The Snub: In fiddling with the roster, an attempt was made to fit Andrei Svechnikov onto the list. He’s been remarkable in his sophomore season with the Hurricanes. But the Metropolitan Division has the exact same problem as the Atlantic Division: one team that needs representation and, as a result, a forward shoehorned into the lineup. If it wasn’t for Kyle Palmieri, Svechnikov has a spot, but name another Devil who deserves to go. We’ll wait.
The Controversial Pick: Does Joonas Korpisalo have the best numbers of any keeper in the division? Not on the surface. But here’s why we think he deserves to go: when measuring goals-saved above average, Korpisalo trails only 10 netminders in the NHL entering action Monday and he’s ahead of every single non-Islanders netminder in the Metro. So, maybe he doesn’t have star power. He’s been excellent for the Blue Jackets, though.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (C)
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild
David Perron, St. Louis Blues
Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators
Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
There are a few players who probably stand out as those who could have been included but weren’t, and that can be explained away easily. This game is in St. Louis – we’ll get back to that in a second – and, as such, the Blues are going to get at least a few representatives. And that’s the way it should be. Face facts: getting an all-star nod is a nice feather in a player’s cap, but it’s not a true measure of which players are the best of the best each season. It’s a fan event, an exhibition with some talented players skating at half speed. Let the Blues cheer on some additional hometown heroes.
The Snub: There are two and both are goaltenders. Surely, Robin Lehner has had an all-star caliber season. He’s been one of the lone reasons the Chicago Blackhawks aren’t on par with the Red Wings in the NHL basement. Likewise, Ben Bishop deserves some love for his play with the Dallas Stars. He’s been incredible and could be a Vezina Trophy finalist once again. But neither appear on the list because this All-Star Game is in St. Louis, and with Jordan Binnington posting comparable numbers, one figures the NHL will cater to the hometown crowd and send the Stanley Cup-winning keeper to the event.
The Controversial Pick: In this projection, Eric Staal represents the Wild instead of Ryan Suter. Understandably, some who’ve followed Minnesota this season will have a gripe with that. But with the pair of Predators defensemen playing as well as they are, it’s impossible to leave either off the list. That leaves no room for Suter to get to the game, which means the Wild need to send a forward and results in Staal finding his way onto the list.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (C)
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper is not included on this list, and we can understand why that’s going to ruffle some feathers. But there's a reason. We’re trying to take Kuemper’s injury into consideration. He’s week-to-week right now with what appeared to be a groin ailment. The Coyotes – nor Kuemper – will likely want to see the netminder participate in the event and risk another injury. Let him take the time to rest up for the stretch run. Arizona has bigger fish to fry this season.
The Snub: Much like the rest, this is a snub born out of necessity, but possibly one mitigated by the inclusion of another player. This is to say that Brock Boeser deserves to be at the game and he has been one of the Pacific’s best forwards throughout the campaign. However, the limited options in Calgary and Los Angeles result in two forward spots being taken by one player from the Flames and another from the Kings. However, Quinn Hughes makes the cut over Brent Burns. Hard to send a second Sharks defenseman when San Jose has been so downright dreadful defensively.
The Controversial Pick: Because Kuemper is potentially out due to injury, another Coyote has to take his place. Realistically, that could be Nick Schmaltz, but he fails to get the nod for the same reasons Boeser was left off the list. And with few Pacific defensemen having outstanding seasons, that opens up a spot for Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson to move into one of the three spots on the blueline. If any player is going to represent Arizona in St. Louis, too, it should be Ekman-Larsson, who has been a franchise fixture and on-ice leader for much of his career.
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