If you add it up and there just might be enough top notch talent attending the NHL’s All-Star festivities in Ottawa to overcome the absence of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, and capture the imaginations of the young, old and even most casual fans searching for a distraction on a light sports weekend. “All I know is that we’re missing some really good hockey players, but there’s a lot of good hockey players in this league,” Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien said Friday. “Even when there’s a few missing, there’s always a bunch of them that can step in and do just as well.
As far as who’s going to emerge as a star player ... I’m not very good when it comes to guessing, so I’m certainly not going to throw out a name.” There’s plenty to choose from as Team Daniel Alfredsson takes on Team Zdeno Chara in the skills competition Saturday and All-Star game Sunday. With concerns hovering over the status of the NHL’s elite — concussions have slowed Crosby; Ovechkin’s slumping in Washington; so is goalie Ryan Miller in Buffalo and there’s an aging old guard that includes Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom and San Jose’s Joe Thornton — the question is who might have a chance to grab a share of the spotlight this weekend and potentially beyond? “For those who are really keyed on Crosby or Ovechkin, maybe it is an opportunity to see some of the other dynamic and exciting players, which the NHL has a lot of,” Calgary forward Jarome Iginla said. “But yeah, I think the stage is there.”
Three of the past five No. 1 draft picks are playing — Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, Chicago’s Patrick Kane and New York Islanders’ John Tavares. Led by Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, the NHL’s top nine and 14 of the top 15 points leaders are here. The Vancouver Canucks’ Sedin twins are no pushovers, given that they rank 1-2 in the NHL in points — Henrik has 258 and Daniel 240 — since the start of the 2009-10 season according to STATS LLC and of the 42 All-Star players in attendance, the consensus top pick leans toward Datsyuk. “His talent is probably as good as anybody’s,” said Chara, the Boston Bruins defenseman who selected Datsyuk first overall in the All-Star draft a day earlier. “I remember we had a game against him in Boston, and he was on a short-handed situation and made two or three guys look like Peewees. ... He just does stuff that really makes you go, ‘Wow, that was special.’”
Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard went a step further when it came to praising both Datsyuk and Malkin. Though acknowledging his bias regarding Datsyuk, Howard believes the two are “best in the world.” The soft-spoken Datsyuk accepted the praise in familiar fashion: with humility and he cracked a big smile when asked what he’d feel like if he was selected the All-Star game’s MVP. “If it happens, it might be I don’t have any dreams any more,” said the 10-year NHL veteran and seven-time 20-goal scorer. When it came to mentioning whom he’s rooting for, Datsyuk listed Malkin, Stamkos, and then noted how special it would be for the Senators duo of Alfredsson or Jason Spezza to succeed in their hometown. “So far it’s four,” Datsyuk said. “It’s enough or you want more?”
For Stamkos, the All-Star game is a chance to add a few more fond memories in Ottawa, where the Tampa Bay Lightning selected him first overall in the 2008 draft. “I remember that day like it was yesterday and probably will for a long time,” Stamkos said. “I’ve had some great memories here, especially at that rink. And I’m looking to create some more memories now, and I’m sure I will.” Stamkos has so far played up to his billing. Since his rookie season, Stamkos’ 151 career goals rank second behind Ovechkin’s 158 over that span, according to STATS. That doesn’t mean Stamkos believes he’s in a position to supplant Ovechkin or Crosby this weekend. “I don’t think anyone really thinks of it like that,” Stamkos said. “Sid and Ovi are arguably two of the best players in the world, and they deserve all the accolades they get. Everyone here wants to showcase their skills and prove they deserve to be at this game. It’s fun.”