The 2011 NHL All-Star Game is just over three months away, and as the young 2010-'11 NHL season ages by the minute, the All-Star Game grows closer and closer.
This past week, the NHL opened up the balloting on their website, nhl.com, for all fans to vote for their favorite players. The ballot includes 100 players to chose from (53 forwards, 29 defensemen, and 18 goalies) but the ballot also includes a write-in vote.
Under the new system, fans vote for three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie per ballot. The top six vote-getters will be automatically named All-Stars. There won't be many concerns for the top superstars, though, even when they're not voted in at first; following the voting, the NHL will choose 36 more players to name All-Stars.
The NHL hasn't released the leaderboard yet, but we can be certain that they're won't be a shortage of Montreal, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Washington players near the top of those rankings...especially when players like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Evgeni Malkin, and Patrick Kane play for those fan-heavy franchises.
However, for the regular NHL fan, their voting choices might require a bit more thought. Of course, the big names such as those stars listed above will obviously jump off the page somewhat. On a different trail of thought, though, what about the unheralded, underrated players who might need to win the voting if they want to have a chance to play the game of their lives?
Looking through the 100-player ballot, it's not difficult to pick out a few individuals who should get more attention than they get. While it is certainly a long shot, why not devote your vote to some players that most fans will probably overlook?!
Brad Richards may have deservedly found his way onto the All-Star Ballot, but he's one of the most unheralded players in the NHL today.
He was a major contributor in Tampa Bay's '03-'04 Cup Championship, scoring a career-high (to this day) 26 goals and putting up 79 points before exploding for 12 goals and 26 points in the playoffs. However, Richards followed up with 91 points the next season. In early 2008, he was traded to the Dallas Stars.
Richards still manged to stay on top of his game despite the location change. Last year, he matched 91 points once again and he's been unstoppable through the first five weeks of this young NHL season, scoring 24 points (sixth in the league) with a plus-10 rating.
However, Richards has never been in a major hockey hotbed and has suffered the consequences; he's still not even close to a hockey household name. Although he's still only 30, the Canadian has racked up 663 points over his extended career.
Out of anyone on the ballot, even the others on this list, Brad Richards might deserve his votes more than any other player.
After seven seasons with the Maple Leafs, 35-year-old defenseman Bryan McCabe has fallen out of the spotlight a bit lately because of his team. Despite Florida's struggles, however, McCabe has remained a consistent veteran leader for their defense.
Over his previous two years with the Panthers, he recorded 82 points combined, a fairly good total for a gritty defenseman. Incredibly, though, those numbers don't come close to some of his offensive productions from years past, as he's reached 15 goals in a year five times already despite posting a plus-39 career +/- rating.
This season, he's been just as solid, earning 10 points and a plus-seven rating in 17 games for a sub-.500 team. McCabe's recognition may be dwarfed by some of the other shutdown 'D'-men on the ballot, but his efforts throughout his 16-season career has earned him the right to be considered just as good as anyone else at his position around the NHL.
Young 25-year-old Corey Perry has already had two 70-plus point seasons and an Olympic Gold Medal during his hockey career, but even dedicated hockey fans will often confuse him with the similarly-named pop star Katy Perry when he's brought up in conversation.
Nonetheless, Perry's been a consistent player, missing only 16 out of the Ducks' last 349 games, and his statistics reflect that. The Ontario native has increased his point total every year so far during his five-season career, topping the 25-goal plateau each of the past three seasons and combining for 148 points in '08-'09 and '09-'10.
Perry is on track this season to top his career-high point total once again. He has nine goals and 13 assists (22 points, first on the team) and a plus-four rating through 21 games. He's scored three times on the powerplay, adding to his impressive man-advantage totals over the past few seasons, too.
If he's not voted in, Perry will still be a good bet to be nominated by the NHL. Still, Perry deserves many times more votes than he's likely to receive.
Guess which NHL player is already an assistant captain for the Colorado Avalanche at age 25, won a Olympic Silver Medal at age 24 and has topped 70 points three of his first four NHL season?
That's right, it's Paul Stastny (*insert cricket sound*).
In 292 career games, Stastny has 91 goals, 32 on the powerplay, and 283 points, just a few decimals shy of a point-per-game ratio. This season he's been above that mark, with 19 points in 18 games played.
That puts the Canadian on pace for his highest-scoring season yet (around 86 points if he keeps this up), but not by much. Stastny had 78 points in his '06-'07 rookie campaign, which would've been good enough for Rookie of the Year honors if some guy named Evgeni Malkin hadn't also been around.
Much like it was then, Malkin remains an NHL superstar while Stastny is recognized only in Avalanche country. But whether you live in Colorado, California or Copenhagen, Paul Stastny certainly deserves your vote this winter.
As fellow writer Ben Ashun put it, "how [Dustin Brown] was left off the roster is mind-boggling." He certainly has a point; Brown, the Los Angeles Kings captain and former 13th-overall draft pick, reached at least 24 goals and 53 points three seasons in a row and has been just as impressive this autumn. However, Brown wasn't even given a glance by the All-Star Ballot makers.
Sure, Brown is the only player on this list that you'll have to use the write-in line to vote for, and you can certainly make a case that if any player deserves a write-in vote, it's Alexander Semin. However, the Capitals offense is so talented and media-hyped, it's hard to feel bad for him.
Meanwhile, Brown, who has had 60, 53 and 56 points the last three seasons, has started the year just as well as before, putting up 13 points in 17 games in addition to a plus-seven rating, a major improvement for a player who's never had a positive +/- rating by the end of a season.
It's a major long shot that Brown will be anywhere near the running to be voted in, and it's even unlikely that he'll be nominated later on, but a strong showing for him would be a great accomplishment for a player who just doesn't get enough attention.
Shea Weber's name may be more familiar to you as a soap than a hockey player, but the 25-year-old physical defenseman was a member of Team Canada last winter and is currently the captain of the Nashville Predators.
Weber began to find his place on the Predators when he put up 40 points and a plus-13 rating from the blue line in '06-'07 at the age of 21. Since then, Weber has topped that total twice, scoring 53 points the season before last and 43 points last year, all the while leading the Predators in hits all three of his full NHL seasons.
For his career, Weber has scored 66 goals, almost half of which came on the powerplay and tallied 107 more assists, but it's not the offensive numbers that are the strong suit of his game.
This season, Weber has been held in check a bit more, scoring only seven points to date with a minus-one rating and a deficit of nine to Francis Bouillon in the hits department. Nevertheless, Weber should get many more All-Star votes than anyone expects him to collect this winter.
Stephane Robidas is "well-known," if you could say, as one of the most underrated players in the NHL. Although he had a career high in goals (10), assists (31) and, naturally, points (41) last season, his offensive numbers aren't all that impressive. However, his defensive skills are among the league's best.
Last season he led the Dallas Stars in hits and blocked shots. The year before, he led in hits and was second in blocked shots. In '07-'08, he was second on the team in hits and first in blocked shots. Those kind of statistics are practically unrivaled across the league, but Robidas has still not been given much exposure.
At 33, his career is beginning to wind down and he's not likely to stand out for most voters when looking over the ballot. Conversely though, Robidas has been just as good as always early this season, posting nine points, a plus-nine rating and 24 blocked shots in 16 games. Although all eight of the players we discuss here certainly should have more All-Star recognition than they do, Robidas is among the most unheralded.
To close our list is 27-year-old Sabres center Derek Roy. He's missed only 14 games the last four seasons and passed the 20-goal milestone each and every time. Although it didn't come close to his plus-37 rating in '06-'07 or 81 points in '07-'08, last season was one of Roy's best, as he notched 26 goals, including a career-high 10 with the man-advantage, 69 points and a plus-nine rating.
Roy carried his performance through the summer and has taken back up where he left off this season, scoring nine goals and 13 assists (totaling for 22 points, eight points more than second-place Thomas Vanek) through 20 games. He also has a plus-five rating, a very good mark considering Buffalo is 7-10-3 at the moment.
Despite the remarkable production that's he had throughout his fairly young career, Roy is not a major star around the NHL. While both he and teammate Thomas Vanek, who's also on the ballot, may be unheralded, it's Roy who is truly worthy of the nomination to the All-Star Game no matter how unlikely that may be.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes . In his two years so far with the site, he has written over 235 articles and received over 214,000 total reads.