2012 NHL All-Star Game: 10 Players Who Are Future All-Stars
With the 2012 NHL All-Star Weekend in the books, it's time to look ahead to the future in an attempt try and project which players will be making their All-Star Game debuts in the coming years.
This season, there were more than 10 players who were suiting up for the All-Star Game for the first time in their careers, indicating that there's been a changing of the guard of sorts among the league's best players.
Absent were perennial selections such as Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Brad Richards. New faces, such as Jamie Benn, Jordan Eberle, Logan Couture, Tyler Seguin and John Tavares played in their place.
The NHL is quickly becoming a league that is dominated primarily by younger players, so with that in mind, here's a look at 10 rising stars who could be making their way to Columbus for the 2013 NHL All-Star Game.
10. Nicklas Backstrom
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Though Nicklas Backstrom has posted 65 points or more in each of his four NHL seasons, he has yet to be named to an NHL All-Star Team, much to the dismay of his teammates who believe the Swedish pivot is among the best playmakers in the game.
After finishing fourth in league scoring in 2009-10 with 101 points, Backstrom should've been a lock to be named to the All-Star Game in 2011. Unfortunately, a sub-par first half performance caused him to be passed over once again.
This season, after leading the Capitals in scoring for the first 50 games of the season despite missing the last 10 games with post concussion syndrome, Backstrom would've been named to the team if he hadn't been on the injured reserve.
Looking ahead, if Backstrom can pick things up right where he left off when Rene Bourque's elbow knocked him out of the lineup, he'll be taking the ice in Columbus next winter as a member of the NHL's All-Star Team for the first time.
9. Brent Seabrook
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As one half of the Chicago Blackhawks' vaunted top defensive pairing, Brent Seabrook has garnered a lot of attention for being the less flashy partner of former Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith.
In fact, much of the reason that Seabrook was selected for Team Canada in preparation of the 2010 Olympics was because General Manager Steve Yzerman intended to keep the pair together at the Olympic Games in Vancouver.
Though Seabrook was ultimately separated from Keith in Vancouver, the 26-year-old was a valuable member of both the Gold Medal Canadian squad and the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, thus cementing his status as a rising star in the NHL.
In 2010-11, while Keith's performance dropped off significantly, Seabrook was stellar, registering 48 points to lead all Blackhawks' defensemen in scoring.
The Blackhawks will be among the league's best teams, at least for the next five to six seasons, and Seabrook will be a fixture on the team's top defensive unithe'll more than likely earn his first invitation to the NHL All-Star Game during that span.
8. Kris Versteeg
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It's extremely rare for a talented 25-year-old player to be on his fourth team in just three seasons, but that's the case with Kris Versteeg, as he is wearing his third different jersey since capturing the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.
After a disappointing stint with the Maple Leafs to start the 2010-11 NHL season, Versteeg was dealt to Philadelphia, but he was once again deemed expendable when the Flyers tried to trim salaries in order to free up cap space for Ilya Bryzgalov's monster contract.
Now, as a Florida Panther, Versteeg has blossomed into one of the NHL's most dangerous offensive threats, as he ranks among the top 25 in goals and points, and has played a leading role in Florida's resurgence.
Alongside Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann, Versteeg has displayed a willingness to go into high-traffic areas in the offensive zone, which has in turn created more opportunities.
If Versteeg continues to improve and assert himself offensively, he'll have the Blackhawks, Flyers and Maple Leafs wishing they hadn't given up quite so quickly on a player with so much potential.
7. Patrice Bergeron
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Though just 26, Patrice Bergeron has already made a name for himself as one of the most reliable defensive forwards in the game.
Now in his eighth season with the Boston Bruins, Bergeron overcame a serious concussion that limited him to just 10 games during the 2007-08 season and posted back-to-back seasons with over 50 points, and played a leading role in the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup Championship.
In fact, Bergeron notched the Stanley Cup winning goal in Game Seven of the Finals in Vancouver, and notched 20 points in 23 games, ranking second among all Bruins in playoff scoring. In addition, Bergeron's 14 assists were second among all players, and he sported the best plus-minus rating of any forward in the league during the postseason.
This season, Bergeron is tied for the team lead in points, but teammate Tyler Seguin was the lone Bruins forward selected for the All-Star Game.
In the future, Bergeron is a sure bet to garner an invitation to All-Star weekend if he continues to combine superb play in the defensive zone with impressive numbers at the offensive end of the ice.
6. Tuukka Rask
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Heading into the final 30 games of the 2011-12 NHL Season, the Boston Bruins have a luxury that few teams can boast of, as they have two bona fide starting goaltenders on their roster.
Though reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas is the team's obvious first choice in net for the time being, the clock is ticking on the 37-year-old, and as his career begins to wind down, Tuukka Rask will soon be given the opportunity to be the Bruins' undisputed starting netminder.
In 2009-10, Rask actually managed to wrestle the job from Thomas for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the 24-year-old Finn performed admirably, taking the Bruins all the way to Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
This season, Rask has been nothing short of spectacular, as he's posted a sterling 11-5-2 record for Boston, and currently sits first among all goaltenders in save percentage, second in goals against average and eighth in shutouts despite only playing in 18 games.
When the Bruins eventually do hand Rask the keys to the franchise's crease, Rask will undoubtedly take his place among the league's best in between the pipes, and when he does, he'll make his All-Star Game debut soon after.
5. Alex Pietrangelo
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For a team with the third best record in the entire league entering the All-Star break, the St. Louis Blues have a miniscule number of All-Stars, as goaltender Brian Elliot was the Blues' lone representative in Ottawa this weekend.
St. Louis has an immensely talented young core of players, and the Blues' blue line is anchored by 22-year-old Alex Pietrangelo, who has quickly established himself as one of the top young defensemen in the game.
As the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, expectations have always been sky-high for the imposing rearguard, but in 2010-11, Pietrangelo showed the hockey world exactly why he was considered a blue chip prospect by posting 43 points in 79 games.
His play down the stretch was a big reason why the Blues' management team ultimately decided that Erik Johnson was expendable in the weeks leading up to the 2011 trade deadline, which speaks volumes about how far Pietrangelo has come since being drafted.
Looking ahead, Pietrangelo will be the Blues' top defenseman for years to come, and an invitation to the All-Star Game in the future seems inevitable.
4. Jordan Staal
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For the last two seasons, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been plagued by injuries, especially concerning some of their best players. Though Sidney Crosby's concussion issues have been by far the most difficult hurdle for the Penguins to overcome, Jordan Staal's inability to stay healthy for a full season has been almost as troubling.
After missing just one contest through his first four seasons combined, Staal managed to play in just 42 games last year, and has been healthy for just 34 this season, which has made life even more difficult for Head Coach Dan Bylsma.
Though just 23, Staal is already six years into his NHL career, and during that time Staal has made a name for himself as one of the most dominant two-way centermen in the game. As a rookie, he set two NHL records, and earned himself a spot on the league's All-Rookie team, and the following season Staal played a key role in the Penguins first Stanley Cup victory since 1992.
If Staal can manage to stay healthy for a full season, he'll be an All-Star in the very near future, especially if he's leaned upon to produce offensively assuming Crosby continues to be on the injured reserve.
3. Taylor Hall
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When the Edmonton Oilers took Taylor Hall with the top selection in the 2010 NHL Entry draft, it was no secret that the speedy scorer would make the jump from Major Junior to the NHL immediately, and Hall did not disappoint.
In 65 games with the Oilers in 2010-11, Hall notched a very respectable 22 goals and 42 points, and was only slowed by a season-ending injury he sustained during a fight with Columbus' Derek Dorsett.
Now in his second season, Hall has been scoring at an even more regular clip, as he's posted 16 goals and 33 points in just 39 games. As the Oilers continue to improve and make their way back towards a return to the postseason, Hall's numbers will rise and he'll come to close to cracking the 40-goal barrier by 2012-13.
Hall's scoring touch and poise in the offensive zone are simply too good for him to not be an All-Star this time next year, but he'll likely have to outscore some of his even younger teammates in order to earn an invitation.
2. Adam Henrique
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One of the most pleasant surprises this season has been New Jersey's 21-year-old center, Adam Henrique, who has been a mainstay on the Devils' top line since being called up from Albany in October.
Without Travis Zajac, the Devils' top center, who has been out for all but eight games so far this season with an achilles injury, New Jersey was forced to turn to Henrique, who seized the job of first line center and never looked back.
So far, Henrique has exceeded even the loftiest expectations the Devils held for him, by scoring 13 goals and 34 points in just 45 games, all while posting the highest plus-minus rating of any of the team's forwards.
While it's too early to say with conviction that Henrique will be a surefire All-Star in the near future, he has all the tools to earn an invitation, and he'll have the opportunity to play with some extremely talented scorers on his wings.
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
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When the Edmonton Oilers took Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the first pick of the 2011 NHL Entry draft, there was little doubt that the gangly 18-year-old would be a star. The only question that remained was whether or not the electrifying center would make his NHL debut in 2011-12, as there were still concerns about how a player weighing just over 170 pounds would fare against grown men at the game's highest level.
Nugent-Hopkins quickly answered those questions by posting 35 points in his first 38 games, and the only reason he hasn't continued that impressive level of production is that like Backstorm, he's been battling concussion-like symptoms for the last month.
Seeing as Nugent-Hopkins is still maturing, the only direction his game can go is up, and he's got all the tools to be a superstar as soon as he's got a clean bill of health.
Skating alongside two of the best young forwards in the game in Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, the trio should combine to form one of the most dangerous offensive units in the league for the next decade.
With his vision, speed and creativity, there's no reason that Nugent-Hopkins can't be making his All-Star Game debut next January, though he might have to outplay his sublimely talented running mates to get there.