The All-Star lineups have been released and (naturally) some players that probably deserve to go to Nashville were left out of the festivities. There are a few reasons for the omissions, ranging from the impact of the fan vote to the rule that every NHL club needs to be represented — a factor that proves much more constricting when trying to assemble four small rosters, based entirely on divisions. And then there’s the simple fact that some of those divisions are so loaded with individual talent that there’s just no way to reward all the impressive performances from the first half.
That’s where the Central comes in. Widely regarded as the league’s toughest division, it features seven teams that currently average an NHL-best 49.6 points in the standings coming into this weekend. When all was said and done a year ago, they averaged 99.4 points — by far the highest of any group again. Oh yeah, the defending Stanley Cup champs also just happen to play there too.
Point is, there’s a lot of talent in the Central. And while it’s not like a bunch of players were egregiously “snubbed” from this year’s game or anything, there are certainly enough worthy leftover players to form a second team from the division — essentially a junior varsity version of the Central, if you will.
In fact, that hypothetical lineup would probably be pretty tough to beat — even for the varsity team.
(Already In: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Vladimir Tarasenko, Matt Duchene)
Blake Wheeler, WPG
He’s Winnipeg’s top scorer, one of the leading assist men in the NHL and the overall points leader among players from the Central that didn’t make the initial cut. In other words, this was a pretty easy pick.
Alexander Steen, STL
For the longest time, the Blues used a balanced attack to generate their offense. Then Vladimir Tarasenko came along and changed everything. In fact, Steen’s the only one on the St. Louis roster within 17 points of the Russian phenom at the moment.
Artemi Panarin, CHI
Should he be allowed to win the Calder Trophy at 24 years of age, with a few seasons of KHL hockey already on his resume? That’s a different debate for a different day. What matters here is that his 38 points had him tied for ninth in the NHL — rookies and vets — heading into play on Friday. He’s also second on the defending champs’ roster in goals, assists and total points. When’s the last time you could say that about a first-year player?
Patrick Sharp, DAL
The Stars are the NHL’s most explosive offense by far, and Sharp has stepped right in behind Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin to help the cause. And his real value should come in April and May, when his past playoff exploits could come in handy for a talented, yet relatively inexperienced Dallas squad.
James Neal, NSH
Let’s just pause for a moment and consider this: in the last three years, the Predators have been able to land a legitimate scoring winger in Neal, a gifted young forward in Filip Forsberg and a No. 1 center in Ryan Johansen — essentially in exchange for Seth Jones and Patric Hornqvist. You want to turn your franchise around quickly? Make deals like that.
Nathan MacKinnon, COL
If last season was his version of a sophomore slump, he’s clearly broken out of it. As a rookie, MacKinnon notched 24 goals and 39 assists to take home the Calder. Last year he stumbled a little, fending off injuries and managing just 14 tallies and 24 helpers in 64 games. This time around, he’s on pace to eclipse those rookie numbers — and the Avalanche are climbing back into the wild card race as a result.
(Already In: Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Dustin Byfuglien)
John Klingberg, DAL
His 38 points are second only to Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson among NHL defensemen, and he has quickly filled a pressing need along the blue line for the surging Stars. Honestly, it’s kind of surprising he’s not already going to the All-Star Game.
Duncan Keith, CHI
Seriously, this is the Central’s second team.
Ryan Suter, MIN
Keeping in mind that every club has to represented, the options with this second lineup basically boiled down to: A) take Zach Parise and Tyson Barrie or B) Suter and MacKinnon. It just didn’t feel right to leave out the guy who posts solid stats and logs the most ice time in the Western Conference (28:22 per game) — all while facing the opposition’s top forwards. Should Parise and Barrie be here? Yeah, probably. Parise should pretty much always be here. Maybe they should make a third lineup.
(Already In: Devan Dubnyk, Pekka Rinne)
Corey Crawford, CHI
Does Crawford occasionally frustrate Chicago fans? Absolutely. Did he struggle so much at one point last year that Joel Quenneville had to turn to backup Scott Darling for a while in the playoffs? Certainly. But he’s pretty solid when he’s on, and he’s definitely been on this season. Yes, the Blackhawks have a ton of firepower, but it’s not like they’re winning all their games 6-5.
Jake Allen, STL
Well, Allen leads the division with a 2.17 goals against average, and has five shutouts for good measure. He should’ve been on the first team.