NHL: Predicting One Surprise 2013 All-Star at Every Position
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It's always fun to look ahead to the next season and try to figure out who will be the game's rising stars in 2012-13.
The top players in the NHL are the guys who dominate the All-Star teams. It would not be a surprise to see Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers on the end-of-season All-Star teams.
However, there are rising stars in the game, players who have shown flashes of their talent and are ready to rise up and join the game's elite. Here's our look at surprise First-Team All-Stars at every position for the 2012-13 season.
Center: John Tavares, New York Islanders
John Tavares has the moves and hands to climb the scoring charts.
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The Islanders knew what they were doing when they selected John Tavares with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft.
Tavares did not have eye-catching size or blazing speed. But at 6'0" and 202 pounds, Tavares was big enough to handle himself and he had the instincts and scoring touch to merit the first pick.
Tavares has climbed up the NHL ladder each each season, scoring 24 goals in his rookie season, 29 goals his second year and last year he broke the 30-goal mark.
He had 31 goals and 50 assists in 2011-12 and his 81-point total allowed him to tie for seventh in the league in scoring.
Tavares is clearly an established player who has gotten better each season. He knows how to create space in the offensive zone and opportunities for himself and his linemates. He's smart, quick and instinctive and he's our prediction to be a first-team All-Star next season.
Islanders' coach Jack Capuano told Arthur Staple of Newsday prior to the end of the season that the key to Tavares' climb up the ladder is his work ethic.
"That's why he's one of the elite players in the league," Capuano said. "He takes a lot of pride in his game and it's important to him to play hard in every single game we play."
Right Wing: Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers
Eberle's slick moves have opened eyes around the NHL.
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The Edmonton Oilers are a team that appears to be on the rise. They are certainly stockpiling talent, having drafted Jordan Eberle in 2008 and then Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov the last three years.
These players should form the core of the team for years to come. Eberle may have been the least ballyhooed coming in—he was taken with the 22nd pick and the others were drafted first overall—but he is ready to shine.
Eberle had a decent rookie season in which he scored 43 points and served notice that he was capable of highlight-film moments. However, he was explosive in 2011-12, recording 34 goals and 42 assists.
Eberle has great hands and a quick release. He also knows how to find the corners of the net, connecting on 18.9 percent of his shots on goal. He scored 10 power play goals, meaning he has that killer instinct coaches like when their teams have the man advantage.
Eberle's power play success may continue with the promotion of assistant head coach Ralph Krueger to head coach. Eberle credited Krueger for the Oilers' improvement in the power play last year and told the Edmonton Journal that the team should continue to get better in that area in 2012-13.
“There was a reason we went from wherever it was (27th on the power play in 2010-11) to third in the league. A lot of it had to do with him,” Eberle said. “He’s a very smart man, a good teacher and I’m really looking forward to moving forward with him.”
Left Wing: Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks
Sharp has a great shot and a goal scorer's instincts.
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The Chicago Blackhawks have a trio of high-profile superstars in forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane along with defenseman Duncan Keith.
High-scoring Patrick Sharp is quickly climbing the ranks and may be a first-team All-Star by the end of the 2012-13 season. Sharp has one of the best wrist shots in the game and he can fire it from a number of angles that will shock and surprise the goaltender.
He has a hunger and a desire to put the puck in the net and he knows how to create time and space once he has the puck. When an offensive player has those elements on his side, he can score with regularity.
Sharp battled battled a wrist injury last season and still managed to score 33 goals and 36 assists. If Sharp stays healthy for the full 82 games, he will exceed the 40-goal mark.
Kane told Ben Meyer-Abbott of the Chicago Sun-Times that Sharp was among the most underrated players in the league and that he had the ability to score big goals.
Defense: Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
Alex Pietrangelo played a key role in the Blues' rise in the Western Conference.
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This is the year that Alex Pietrangelo makes the climb to first-team All-Star and Norris Trophy candidate.
Pietrangelo may only be 22, but he was named as a second-team All Star last year because he has a solid all-around game. He takes care of his defensive responsibilities with his quick stick and ability to break up rushes.
He is also a solid offensive player who can carry the puck, hit open teammates with accurate passes and take the shot when he gets the opportunity.
More than his numbers, Pietrangelo is a responsible player. Head coach Ken Hitchcock had full confidence in him as evidenced by his NHL-leading 32.9 shifts per game. Pietrangelo had 12 goals and 39 assists in 2011-12 and six of his goals were game winners.
Defense: Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets
Jack Johnson should play with an edge in 2012-13 after watching his former team raise the Stanley Cup.
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Jack Johnson finished the 2011-12 season playing defense for the Columbus Blue Jackets, the worst team in hockey.
A couple of months after the regular season ended, he saw the Los Angeles Kings lift the Stanley Cup. Oh, what might have been.
Johnson was moved by the Kings at the trade deadline to Columbus for sniper Jeff Carter. The Kings were badly in need of a scorer and they gave up one of their best defensemen in Johnson.
It was a surprising development at the time, but head coach Darryl Sutter explained to Dan Arritt of ESPNLosAngeles.com that the Kings had to trade a strength to fix a weakness.
Johnson is a big and physical defenseman with offensive skills. He is a hard-working and determined player who wants to show that the trade can't be fully judged just yet. He scored 12 goals and recorded 26 assists while playing for the Kings and Blue Jackets last year. He also showed the ability to score in the clutch with five game-winning goals.
He'll take a step up this year and show that he's a first team All-Star.
Goalie: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask has shown that he can be an elite goalie in the NHL.
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They are not crying in their beer in Boston, wondering what will become of the Bruins without Tim Thomas.
There is plenty of hope and that hope is bordering on full-fledged confidence as general manager Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien turn the goaltending duties over to Tuukka Rask.
Rask has a track record. He is not an untested player. Rask became the de facto No. 1 goalie for the Bruins in the 2009-10 season when Thomas was troubled by a hip injury. Rask played 45 games that season and was 22-12-5. He had a 1.97 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. Both of those figures were the best in the NHL that year.
Rask uses his 6'3" frame to take up a lot of space in goal. He also has quick reactions and knowledge of the league's shooters.
He has had success in the league and this year he'll become the league's All-Star goaltender. Chiarelli signed Rask to a one-year, $3.5 million contract July 1, and believes he will have a chance to show off his talent.
“Tuukka’s been a really good goalie for us, but (except) for one year, he hasn’t been the No. 1 goalie," Chiarelli told Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald. "The stage is set for him and we’ll see where it takes us."