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SB Nation’s Guide to the 2017 NHL All-Star Game

Nikita KucherovTampa Bay LightningF
Brad MarchandBoston BruinsF
Auston MatthewsToronto Maple LeafsF
Frans NielsenDetroit Red WingsF
Kyle OkposoBuffalo SabresF
Vincent TrocheckFlorida PanthersF
Victor HedmanTampa Bay LightningD
Erik KarlssonOttawa SenatorsD
Shea WeberMontreal CanadiensD
Carey PriceMontreal CanadiensG
Tuukka RaskBoston BruinsG
Sidney CrosbyPittsburgh PenguinsF
Taylor HallNew Jersey DevilsF
Cam AtkinsonColumbus Blue JacketsF
Alex OvechkinWashington CapitalsF
Wayne SimmondsPhiladelphia FlyersF
John TavaresNew York IslandersF
Justin FaulkCarolina HurricanesD
Seth JonesColumbus Blue JacketsD
Ryan McDonaghNew York RangersD
Sergei BobrovskyColumbus Blue JacketsG
Braden HoltbyWashington CapitalsG
Patrick KaneChicago BlackhawksF
Patrik LaineWinnipeg JetsF
Nathan MacKinnonColorado AvalancheF
Tyler SeguinDallas StarsF
Vladimir TarasenkoSt. Louis BluesF
Jonathan ToewsChicago BlackhawksF
Duncan KeithChicago BlackhawksD
P.K. SubbanNashville PredatorsD
Ryan SuterMinnesota WildD
Corey CrawfordChicago BlackhawksG
Devan DubnykMinnesota WildG
Jeff CarterLos Angeles KingsF
Johnny GaudreauCalgary FlamesF
Bo HorvatVancouver CanucksF
Ryan KeslerAnaheim DucksF
Connor McDavidEdmonton OilersF
Joe PavelskiSan Jose SharksF
Brent BurnsSan Jose SharksD
Drew DoughtyLos Angeles KingsD
Cam FowlerAnaheim DucksD
Martin JonesSan Jose SharksG
Mike SmithArizona CoyotesG

Skills Competition Saturday, Jan. 28, 7:00 pm ET

All-Star Game Sunday, Jan. 29, 3:30 pm ET


Atlantic vs. Metro

Central vs. Pacific



Watch on NBC (US) CBC/Sportsnet (Canada)

These 4 All-Stars are changing the game forever

Why do All-Star Games matter?

That question comes up a lot these days. When we mourned the death of the Breakaway Challenge recently, a vocal minority of fans told us the NHL should get rid of the All-Star Game all together. “What’s the point,” they seemed to be asking.

The point is, as ever, appreciation. Not just for the stars you already know, like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but for the wonderfully unique players from teams you rarely get to watch, enjoying terrific seasons you’ve only heard whispers about.

And it’s just a fun weekend to celebrate where the NHL is heading. Glance around each of the four rosters and you’ll find world-class players with a blend of skills and hockey IQ that point to the bright future laid out for hockey as a whole.

Because today’s NHL isn’t about one-dimensional players who know their role and stick to it rigidly. The best players in the league are the best because they show up to the table with Batman’s tool belt of talents and abilities and put them to use better than anyone who’s played the game before them.

So why have an All-Star Game if not to drag those hockey-humbled personalities directly into the spotlight? And that’s the other great thing about many of the 2017 All-Stars: they ooze personality.

We’re talking P.K. Subban and his remarkable dedication to charity, community and just being himself. We’re talking Brad Marchand and his one-of-a-kind role as a pest everyone can love. We’re talking Alex Ovechkin’s raw emotion feeding his all-time great scoring abilities. We’re talking Brent Burns embracing a laid-back, “just here to have fun and win a lot” playing style.

The NHL is littered with players with skills and personalities that are immediately infectious. And four of them showing up to the All-Star Game deserve a special moment of appreciation for just how they’re leading the charge for a rapidly-evolving sport. These are players entering the prime of their careers, so there’s more than enough time to fall in love with their playing styles if you haven’t already.

And they embody what will make hockey so uniquely different in the coming years: unparalleled speed, incredible vision, subtle yet incredible body language and grit and scoring ability that makes fans and coaches fall head-over-heels for.

Read on to find out why Wayne Simmonds, Vladimir Tarasenko, Erik Karlsson and Connor McDavid represent the best qualities of the 44 NHL-best players playing in the All-Star Game this weekend.

Erik Karlsson

#65 D Ottawa Senators

The concept of elite NHL defensemen has evolved rapidly over the last two decades.

From Al MacInnis to Scott Niedermayer to Nicklas Lidstrom, Norris Trophy voters have come to appreciate the art of the two-way defenseman: a guy who can shut down plays in his own end while driving goals for his own team at an equally high rate.

But even those hallowed hockey names don’t have the pure vision and innate playmaking ability that Erik Karlsson does. He is as special as any NHL defenseman to play the game.

And as handsome. But we will g—


So we’ll start off with a stat and an exercise. Please name, off the top of your head, the three best passers in the NHL right now.


Correct! Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton and Nicklas Backstrom. It’s funny you mentioned that, since those three centers have the most assists of any NHL player since 2013-14. The fourth?

Erik Karlsson, with 195 apples. And with considerably less talent around him than the three players ahead of him. Since that ‘13-14 season, Karlsson has gone on a run not seen by an NHL defenseman before, with 252 points that sit 71 points ahead of his blue line peers.

Since 2011-12, Karlsson has ranked in the top three of all players in total goals-on-ice-for. And it’s not like Ottawa’s been a goal-scoring menace during that time; it's ranked among the league’s worst in goals-for recently.

So what makes Karlsson so special? His vision and quick thinking. And frankly, his confidence.

Few players would ever try a home run pass through the center of the ice with regularity. But Karlsson does, and he succeeds because he knows a window when he sees it and he knows he can thread a puck through it.

And he knows, like every great player does, that his greatness can be used to his advantage. Karlsson’s slap shot isn’t the strongest, but it’s sneaky. But he’s so creative with it. Watch him wind up for a slap shot from the point only to slap pass it straight to a waiting Jason Spezza. I really can’t describe how hard that is to do, much less complete it right on the money.

That willingness to try things differently places Karlsson on a level higher than his defensive peers. And it’s not just the plays that lead to goals. It’s the small things he’ll attempt that wouldn’t cross the minds of other defensemen.

When challenged at the point by two defenders, the simple play is to just dump the puck in quickly. Just pop the escape hatch. Sometimes Karlsson will do that. But sometimes, he’ll deke both of them and set up a scoring chance.

Karlsson’s not the only defenseman who could pull that off. But he’s probably the only one willing to consider that a legitimate option.

And that’s a beautiful thing. If there’s one thing hockey tries to squeeze out of its players, it’s creativity. Don’t get cute. Make the simple play. Do all the little things right. Most coaches hate flashiness. It’s hard to blame them: If a cute play goes wrong, it usually ends up in the back of your own net.

But you know what? Fans love it. Highlight-reel, puck-on-a-string plays are what makes hockey appealing. And that a defenseman like Karlsson is one of the sport’s most electric players is just a good indication of where the future of the sport is headed. What it can be.

Another thing the NHL tries to squeeze out of its sport is personality. Which is a shame, because the sport is absolutely littered with personality. P.K. Subban is just a joy. Alex Ovechkin is hockey energy at its rawest form.

But Erik Karlsson is cool confidence the likes of which hockey is unfamiliar with.

Exhibit A: When you search "Erik Karlsson," the first thing Google tries to autosuggest is "Erik Karlsson flow" because his hair is BEAUTIFUL. Karlsson is the answer to the question, "What if an archetypal heroic Swedish knight played hockey?" He is a handsome man.

And he knows it. The internet is flooded with GIFs of Karlsson winking. He’s also just a fun dude; an elite player who doesn’t take himself too seriously when the situation calls for some levity.

But when the situation calls for leadership, Ottawa’s captain answers the call. Karlsson had the honor of learning from Daniel Alfredsson. Since earning the "C," Karlsson has grown into the unquestioned leader of the Senators.

And that leadership rounds Erik Karlsson into the perfect balance of everything people love about hockey. Old-school types can appreciate his work ethic and dedication to his team. The stats community can appreciate his unique offensive output from his position. Young fans can become enamored with his unparalleled charisma on and off the ice. And new fans can use his electric talents as a conduit for their burgeoning love of the sport.

Erik Karlsson is special because his appeal is universal.

Wayne Simmonds

#17 F Philadelphia Flyers

Early during the 2011-12 Philadelphia Flyers season, newly acquired winger Wayne Simmonds approached the media following a win, in which he scored a greasy power play goal in front of the net.

Simmonds had been traded to Philly that offseason in a one of two blockbuster trades that saw team captain Mike Richards and his BFF, Jeff Carter, sent packing. Exciting young power forward Jakub Voracek, a draft pick that became prospect Sean Couturier, and Brayden Schenn — then hyped as the top prospect in the game — were all considered more important long-term pieces in the Flyers’ dramatic offseason makeover that year.

It’s not quite that Simmonds was an afterthought or a throwaway piece, but he was considered an ancillary piece in the team’s transition: a cheap, young, gritty third-line forward with upside.

Six years later, things are completely different, and that upside has been completely realized. It’s Simmonds — not Voracek, or Couturier, or Schenn, or current captain Claude Giroux — heading to the 2017 NHL All-Star Game as the representative from Philly. How the heck did that happen?

It goes back to what was revealed in that media scrum in 2011. Simmonds had scored a power play goal that night by picking up a rebound in front of the net, and he was asked if he ever played that sort of net-front role on the power play before while he was in Los Angeles. The answer, surprisingly, was no.

In the six years since, the lanky kid from Scarborough with legs as thick as pick-up sticks has become perhaps the best at that role in the National Hockey League. His 68 goals on the power play since 2011-12 is most in the league among players who aren’t Alex Ovechkin, and he is a major reason why Philadelphia’s top power play unit has been one of hockey’s most-feared over much of that span.

For a guy who looks like he could swim in a size medium T-shirt, his role as a player who out-positions and out-muscles his opponents as general course is sort of a weird one. But while he may be at his best when trying to power through an opposing player in the corner or in the crease, it’s more than just grit that makes Simmonds an All-Star. It’s the unique blend of that power with finesse, great stick skills, and impressive (sometimes surprising) speed that make Simmonds a perennial 30-goal scorer as he enters the prime of his career.

His style results in bunches of goals on the power play, mostly as the cleanup man. His even-strength game has come into its own in recent years, as well, though. Whether he’s playing alongside Giroux and Voracek, or a defensive-minded forward like Sean Couturier, or a fourth-line mainstay like Ryan White — he’s one that drives possession and vital secondary scoring regardless of who he’s playing with.

The words "size," "grit" and "muscle" are basically regarded as insults in today’s NHL, as the league has evolved into a speedier North-South game with skill the primary focus. Just as big, hulking defensemen who clamp down on forwards with punishing physical play are quickly becoming a rare breed, players with the primary skill set of Wayne Simmonds find themselves with similar struggles.

If you’re an NHL fan that’s been dismayed in the last decade about the slow, steady decrease of physical play in the game, Simmonds has a strong case to be your favorite player. He never shies away from a confrontation — he’s been in 34 fights since joining the Flyers — and blends an ability to defend his teammates with pure hockey skill unlike any player in hockey.

In many ways, Wayne Simmonds is redefining the role of a tough power forward in hockey, as the only player in the last five years to score more than 30 goals in a season while also sitting in the penalty box for more than 100 minutes. He fights, he hits, he battles, he intimidates, and of course, most importantly, he is one of Philadelphia’s most valuable offensive weapons.

The full package makes him one of the most entertaining players to watch in the NHL.

Vladimir Tarasenko

#91 F St. Louis Blues

When hockey analysts and coaches talk about pure goal scorers, it's often about more than just a player's goal totals. There's a shine to players whose skills exceed the ones charted on the stat sheets, who command a presence not only with their talent alone. Vladimir Tarasenko may not possess the historic scoring capabilities of a few of his peers, but there's no doubt there's electricity running through his veins.

The St. Louis Blues have something special in 25-year-old Tarasenko. The Russian-born winger is a three-time All-Star and the Blues points leader since 2014 by a wide margin. Once billed as the prototypical NHL sniper, Tarasenko has since separated himself from the pack. Anyone can score a goal in the NHL — though they have been harder to come by over the last 20 years — but not many can do what Tarasenko does.

Take, for example, Tarasenko's first real moment in the spotlight back in 2014 against the Rangers.

It's a finish that still reverberates through the NHL, but the entire play is a masterful performance in stick-handling, creativity, and speed. A slight little movement of his left leg around a sliding Rangers' defenseman and he's off. Part of the blame falls on the Rangers' unpreparedness, but Tarasenko blows by the remaining defenders with hardly a touch.

Later that season, Tarasenko was able to duplicate the play almost perfectly against the Wild, down to the one-handed finish.

He also has more subtler aspects to his game, ones that help him get into position to put well-placed pucks behind goaltenders. There's a lot to be said about Tarasenko's edge-work, the skill behind hockey players' ability to move on a dime, and how he opens up his hips just enough to freeze defenders in their skates.

It's why Sidney Crosby is so dominant at just about everything, and it's how Tarasenko is able to use what little time and space he has to make plays.

Maybe an underrated aspect of Tarasenko's game is just how strong he plays with the puck. His speed gets him into advantageous positions and his edge-work is fine enough that he can make what few moves he can count. Yet, when called for Tarasenko utilizes body positioning to cut defenders off of pucks and give himself more time to take advantage of the situation.

In essence, Tarasenko is hockey finesse at its finest. His masterful flair and style likely won't break scoring records, but it sure is a treat to watch night in and night out.

Connor McDavid

#97 F Edmonton Oilers

What makes hockey so intoxicating?

Big hits? Sure, but those are less frequent. Fights, even more so. The one constant as the sport changes is its ability to conjure plays out of nothing, turning a ho-hum stretch of hockey into a dazzling flash of skill that makes fans audibly gasp and rise out of their seats.

In today’s NHL, that happens with a tremendous amount of speed. And no one player epitomizes that important blend of speed and skill more than Connor McDavid.

So what makes McDavid so fast? It comes down to his mechanics. Jason Yee of Train 2.0 broke down McDavid’s skating ability in his YouTube series. Essentially, when McDavid is carrying the puck, he seems like he’s skating downhill as hard and direct as he can.

He leans into each stride. Like he’s skating down a wind tunnel.

It’s hard to underestimate how important that speed is when you combine it with his "Point A to Point B" mentality with the puck. Some players will get too cute with the puck in their own zone, trying to make the perfect pass to exit their zone cleanly. McDavid doesn’t waste any time because he knows he can outskate anyone who tries to intercept him.

And the mere threat of McDavid is usually enough to make defenders back off when he’s barreling toward their net. Just a little bit of space between you and him could be enough to disrupt his plans. Otherwise, if you try and stand him up at the blue line, he’ll make a slight adjustment and fly around you. Like he did here against the Predators. That clip was from his first week in the NHL. Defenders hadn’t learned yet.

Now they have. You try and cut him off at the pass at your own risk.

That speed is essential in more than just the offensive side of the game. As a center, McDavid is required to play a more defensively responsible game than his wingers. And he excels at that role, far better than one would expect of a 20 year old. And his ability to accelerate on a whim is a big part of that.

McDavid’s agility and incredibly strong first stride means he can course-correct and backcheck at an incredibly high level. Watch how many times he seems to find himself back around the puck in the defensive zone here, like a circling vulture with a rocket attached to each wing.

Transitions are so important in hockey. How cleanly and quickly you exit your zone often determines the quality of scoring chances at the other end. So it’s no surprise that McDavid’s world-class acceleration lets him turn a retrieval in his own end into goals at the other in the blink of an eye.

When the Sabres and Oilers played to 3-on-3 overtime, McDavid’s transition from retrieval to goal happened in just six seconds. It takes me 10 seconds to get from my office to my kitchen. Please do not forward that sentence to any robbers.

It’s also worth noting that none of this matters if McDavid couldn’t handle the puck well while at top speed. Fast players have come and gone since the NHL’s inception, but so few have the ability to make elite-level plays with the afterburners on.

This was obvious before he was even drafted. Here’s what The Draft Analyst said about McDavid’s puck-handling leading up to the 2015 NHL draft:

McDavid is an explosive skater with breakaway speed, but his balance and ability to control the puck at the highest of speeds is unmatched in this draft ... Has lightning-quick hands around the net and can elevate the puck with ease, even when outstretched.

Any number of McDavid’s NHL breakaway goals since then confirm this. And there have been a lot of them. For a kid who just broke into the league, he sure does seem to find himself in open space often.

There was that time he showed off that high-speed reach against the Canucks ... and that time he turned a 2-on-1 into a 1-on-0 in Arizona ... and that time he warned the entire league that you better not let him take a penalty shot.

And here’s the thing: He’ll get plenty of penalty shot attempts in his career. Those clips demonstrate the McDavid Paradox.

Mc·Da·vid par·a·dox

/McDævɪd/ /perəˌdäks/


The contradictory situation in which a defender has to choose between letting Connor McDavid have a free shot on a breakaway or taking him down and risking a penalty shot call. In either case, McDavid will score.

"... in a Connor McDavid Paradox, Drew Doughty has discovered that he is screwed either way."

synonyms: helplessness, futility, awe, despair

So why is McDavid’s speed and skill important?

Because it’s intoxicating. It’s everything you should love about the way hockey is heading. It’s faster without losing an ounce of the skill and creativity that make it fun to watch and digest every night.

Thanks to players like McDavid, the NHL is becoming much more fun for fans to keep up with than the defenders doomed to chase him for the next two decades.