Super-Early Predictions for the 2013-14 NHL All-Star Teams
The NHL All-Star teams are announced shortly after the Stanley Cup Final and rarely create a ton of buzz for the league, but that wasn't the case this year.
Washington Capitals star and Hart Trophy winner Alexander Ovechkin was named to the first All-Star team at right wing and made the second team as a left winger. It was the first time since Mark Messier in 1992 that a player had been selected to both teams in the same year.
This was an embarrassment for the NHL because there's no reason for one player to be on each team, but since Ovechkin played at both wing positions throughout the year, some writers didn't know which position he was supposed to be voted on.
As we look toward next season, Ovechkin is likely to make one of the two teams again. Who will join him on these all-star teams? Let's look at some super-early predictions.
1st Team Forwards
Center: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby finished only four points behind scoring leader Martin St. Louis last season despite missing a quarter of the season because of a broken jaw. His 56 points (15 goals, 41 assists) in 36 games earned him the best point-per-game average (1.55) in the league.
As the best offensive player in the world, the Penguins captain will enter the 2013-14 season with a great chance to reach the 100-point mark for the fifth time in his career, especially since both of his wingers (Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz) were re-signed in the offseason.
Left Wing: Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers
Taylor Hall had a breakout season in 2013. He tallied 50 points (16 goals, 34 assists) in 45 games, which was just three away from his career high. He also proved his durability after injuries forced him to miss 38 games in his first two NHL seasons.
As part of an ultra-talented group of Oilers forwards (including centers Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), Hall will likely become a point-per-game player for Edmtonton next season, while also improving his leadership skills. The former No. 1 overall pick is arguably the best choice to succeed Shawn Horcoff as team captain.
Right Wing: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane enjoyed a remarkable 2013 season that ended with a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
His regular season numbers were quite impressive. He tallied 55 points (23 goals, 32 assists) in 47 games, and his 1.17 points per game average was the best of his career.
As the most skilled winger in the world who plays alongside an elite center in Jonathan Toews, expect Kane to reach the 90-point mark for the first time in his career next season.
1st Team Defense and Goaltender
Defenseman: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
Duncan Keith was a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate for the Blackhawks last season and serves as the anchor of the league's best defense (Chicago led the NHL in GAA in 2013) and third-best penalty kill.
Not only does the 30-year-old defenseman shut down the opposing team's top scorers for over 20 minutes each game, he also adds valuable offense from the blue line. Keith is fully capable of posting 40-55 points on a Blackhawks team with tons of offensive firepower.
This is the kind of two-way game that will make him a Norris Trophy finalist next season.
Defenseman: Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
It took a few weeks for Ryan Suter to get settled in with the Minnesota Wild, but you could argue that he was the NHL's best defenseman in the last half of the season.
Minnesota's top blueliner was a force offensively (32 points in 48 games) and logged a league-leading 27:16 of ice time against the opponents' best forwards every game.
As an elite two-way defenseman, expect Suter to have a great sophomore season in Minnesota and become a Norris Trophy finalist for the second straight year.
Goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
The New York Rangers' success begins and ends with goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner kept the Blueshirts in the playoff race last season with an impressive performance in net, posting a 24-16-3 record, 2.05 GAA and .926 save percentage.
As arguably the best netminder in the world, with a terrific group of defensemen in front of him, Lundqvist is going to be among the league leaders in several different goaltending categories next season. He's the most reliable and consistent player (seven straight 30-win non-lockout seasons) at his position.
2nd Team Forwards
Center: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos finished second in goals scored (29) and points (57) last season despite playing on a bad Tampa Bay Lightning team. With more talent around him next season, highlighted by the addition of No. 3 overall pick Jonathan Drouin, Stamkos should tally 90-plus points for the fourth time in his career.
The Lightning star is the league's best goal scorer (leads all players with 185 goals since 2009-10) and a force on the power play (four straight seasons of 10-plus goals with the man advantage). As he continues to develop into a complete two-way player with stronger defensive skills, Stamkos will be an easy choice for the second NHL all-star team despite some tough competition at center.
Left Wing: Rick Nash, New York Rangers
Rick Nash tallied 42 points in 44 games last year despite playing in a defensive style of hockey led by head coach John Tortorella, who was fired after the team's second-round playoff loss to Boston.
The power forward should be even more productive in the more open, offensive-minded system that new bench boss Alain Vigneault will bring to Madison Square Garden. It wouldn't be a surprise if Nash reached the 80-point mark for the first time in his career with a 40-goal season in 2013-14.
Right Wing: Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Alexander Ovechkin won his third Hart Trophy last year thanks to a second-half goal-scoring surge that included 22 goals in his final 21 regular season games. He led the league with 32 goals and finished in the top five of scoring with 56 points.
As one of the best offensive players in the world, Ovechkin is a lock to finish among the league leaders in goals and points again next year.
The Capitals captain is one of the most dangerous players on the power play (13-plus goals with the man advantage in seven of the last eight years) and also has an elite playmaking center alongside him in Nicklas Backstrom. Ovechkin will have a strong chance to become the first player to win four or more MVPs in a seven-year period since Wayne Gretzky.
2nd Team Defense and Goaltending
Defenseman: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
Erik Karlsson's 2013 season was shortened to 17 games because of a torn Achilles, but that won't prevent him from being the league's top offensive defenseman when he starts next year fully healthy.
The Senators star tallied 78 points in 2011-12 to win the Norris Trophy and could post anywhere from 65-80 points next season for an Ottawa team with impressive scoring depth when healthy.
No defenseman in the NHL has better playmaking or skating skills than the 23-year-old from Sweden.
Defenseman: P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
The 2013 Norris Trophy winner took major strides defensively last season to become a reliable two-way defenseman. Subban also tied for the league lead in scoring among defensemen with 38 points, and his seven power-play goals were the second-most by a defenseman last season.
As a smooth-skating defenseman with amazing puck-moving skills, expect the Canadiens star to shatter his career high of 38 points next year. Despite having a very successful three-year career in the NHL thus far, Subban still has plenty of room for improvement.
Goaltender: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask earned an eight-year, $56 million contract last week largely because of his remarkable 2013 season.
The 26-year-old proved his ability to be an elite No. 1 goalie with a 19-10-5 record, while also ranking third in save percentage (.929), fifth in GAA (2.00) and first in shutouts (five). In fact, no goaltender since the 2004-05 lockout has a better save percentage than Rask (among players with 100-plus games played).
In the playoffs, Rask led the league with a .940 save percentage and three shutouts in helping the Bruins reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Rask proved he could perform at an elite level consistently last season, despite the significant amount of pressure put on his shoulders as the starting goalie of a championship contender. There's no reason to believe that Rask will fail to improve next season as he enters the prime of his career.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.