2012 NHL All-Star Game: Colorado Avalanche Future Stars
This weekend, Gabriel Landeskog will be the only member of the Colorado Avalanche to make the trip to Ottawa for the 2012 NHL All-Star Game. Landeskog will be one of 12 NHL rookies selected to participate in Saturday's skills competition, but will not be a player in the All-Star Game itself.
Not to worry Avalanche fans. Although the Avs do not have a full-fledged all-star this season, the NHL's youngest team certainly is full of up-and-coming talent, many of whom could see several All-Star Games in the future. Here are the players who could represent the Burgundy and Blue in future All-Star Games.
Matt Duchene played in his first career NHL All-Star Game last year and is primed to star in many more. He made his mark last year by being awarded the first ever penalty shot in an ASG after Alex Ovechkin intentionally threw his stick. Duchene was ultimately stopped by Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. He was also chosen to wear a microphone during the entire weekend and got to put a bit of his personality on display. He made headlines with a vodka comment during the skills competition, since he was only 20 at the time.
He is currently on the shelf with a knee injury, but will be a key component for the Avs once he returns for their stretch run to make the playoffs this season and for years to come. Duchene is the most offensively gifted player on the Avs and the video above is an example of what he can do. Duchene still has a very long way to go before he can be compared with either of his boyhood idols, former Avalanche superstars Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, but you can certainly see flashes of their brilliance in the development of Duchene's game.
Duchene does not have the size and strength that were the staple of Forsberg's game, but he can control the puck very well and make moves like the above goal. Duchene also has incredible speed with the puck, not unlike Sakic in his prime. If Duchene continues to evolve, he certainly has all the makings of a perennial all-star due to his talent, skill, and likable personality.
During the 2010-2011 season, Stefan Elliott was awarded the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the Western Hockey League's top defenseman. With Elliott, as well as 2009-2010's Bill Hunter Trophy winner Tyson Barrie in the pipeline, Avalanche management traded away long-time defenseman and fan favorite John-Michael Liles and last year's rookie All-Star selection, Kevin Shattenkirk.
On November 25th, 2011, Elliott was called up to the Avalanche from the Lake Erie Monsters, and has been with Colorado ever since. He's certainly an undersized defenseman, just as Liles and Shattenkirk were, but Elliott does have a very good wrist shot from the point. Elliott has had ups and downs in the NHL thus far, but has all the makings to become a top puck-moving defenseman on this Avalanche club.
Erik Johnson has been highly criticized throughout his career, both here in Colorado and in St. Louis, where he was a former #1 overall draft pick. However, Johnson is still only 23-years-old. Although he has not yet developed into a top NHL defenseman, he certainly has all the tools in place.
At 6'4", 230lbs, Johnson is a big defenseman and when he's at his best, he is playing physical hockey and punishing other team's forwards. Johnson also has a cannon of a slap shot that the Avs have not seen from a defenseman since Rob Blake.
Give EJ another year or two and he could make St. Louis very sorry they gave up on him.
The second overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft was a no-brainer as an All-Star rookie selection this year. Although his points aren't quite up there with fellow rookies Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Edmonton and Adam Henrique of New Jersey, Landeskog does lead all rookies in shots and hits.
Landy certainly has that "it" factor and has not disappointed when he was called the "most NHL-ready" prospect prior to the draft. Coach Joe Sacco has felt comfortable all season long playing Landeskog in all situations including power play, penalty killing, and crucial final moments of games. In fact, in only the eighth game of his young career, he scored the game-tying goal in Chicago against the Blackhawks (video above).
Expect Gabriel Landeskog to develop into a leader and staple of this Avalanche team and also an NHL All-Star.
After missing nearly a year and a half with a concussion, Peter Mueller is back. Avalanche Nation is crossing its collective fingers that this time, Mueller finally stays healthy. Mueller was acquired late in the 2009-2010 season along with Kevin Porter for Wojtek Wolski.
Mueller was on fire until his injury and if he can reignite that fire, he will be a solid, top-line winger for the Avs. He had a great, feel-good game last week against Florida and hopefully that was a sign of things to come.
If he stays healthy and produces up to his capability, Mueller could find himself as a bona fide NHL All-Star.
After Duchene's injury, O'Reilly was unquestionably the Avs' front-runner to be selected to the 2012 NHL All-Star Game. While he did not earn the selection this year, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility for O'Reilly to be a future all-star.
During his first two NHL seasons, O'Reilly was a very effective defensive center. This year however, O'Reilly has blossomed into a top-line center and is currently the Avs' leading scorer. Pegged by many to become the next captain of the Avalanche, if O'Reilly continues to grow offensively, his clutch goals and legendary work ethic will lead "Factor" to great heights.
At 26-years-old, Paul Stastny is considered a ripe old veteran on this young Avalanche squad. He has already been selected to two All-Star Games (although he was unable to attend the first one due to injury).
He's not a flashy player, but at his best, Stastny has been a point-per-game player throughout much of his career and if he produces at that pace, Stastny will find himself back in an All-Star sweater.
Like Erik Johnson, Semyon Varlamov has faced criticism both here and with his previous team in Washington. Also like Johnson, Varlamov is only 23-years-old. While he has had his ups and downs this season and has currently been watching Jean-Sebastien Giguere tend goal from the bench, Varlamov still has a tremendous skill set and talent as a goalie and can certainly evolve into an All-Star goalie.
Varlamov has shown flashes that he can be an all-star caliber goalie and once he's able to evolve to the point where he can play that way consistently, he could very well prove to be the Avs' long-term solution in net.