Saturday, January 24, 2015

Foligno, Johansen give Columbus memorable night

COLUMBUS -- It wasn't a perfect night for Columbus Blue Jackets forwards Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen, but it was close enough for the hometown fans to enjoy Team Foligno's 25-19 win against Team Toews in the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition at Nationwide Arena on Saturday.

Foligno missed several shots in the Skills Challenge Relay and Johansen flubbed his shootout attempts, but the capacity crowd was in a forgiving mood because of several memorable moments provided by Johansen.

He captured the hearts and votes with a Columbus-centric effort to win the Breakaway Challenge through online balloting.

On his first try, he wore an Ohio State jersey to honor its football team for winning the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 12.

He certainly had the home fans in his corner and probably wrapped up the competition (which was all about style points, not whether a player actually scored) when he used Cole Vogt, the son of Blue Jackets trainer Mike Vogt, on his second attempt and let him take a shot and score against Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.

Finally, Johansen completed his bag of tricks by using several Team Foligno players in the "Flying V" made famous in the "Mighty Ducks" movies.

"We're trying to make ourselves as open as much as possible to the fans," Foligno said. "We know how important it is that they see a different side of us. The season is so long, it's hard to get yourselves out there."

Foligno and his alternate captains chose players who built a big lead and then watched the squad led by Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews cut a 12-point deficit in half with a strong showing in the shootout.

"We had a blast," Foligno said. "The guys did awesome. I wasn't sure how it was going to go, but we got off to a great lead. They came back on those [shootouts]. I hate those breakaways, but it was a lot of fun for sure."

Nobody had more fun or creativity than Johansen.

He started his first anything-goes attempt in the Breakaway Challenge by taking several strides toward the net, stopping and then peeling off his top to reveal a No. 5 Ohio State jersey.

Fans in Columbus instantly recognized that as the number for senior quarterback Braxton Miller, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in August before the Buckeyes' first game.

"That OSU jersey was a no-brainer for me," Johansen said. "Obviously living here and going through that experience and them winning the championship was great. I had a jersey at home, so I figured I would put it on and have some fun with that."

He said he went to the store Saturday looking for an OU helmet to complement his outfit, but "none of them would fit my head."

Johansen's second act came to him prior to the competition.

"I was thinking of grabbing a kid out of the stands, but it would be tough," he said. "Maybe he'd be nervous or not want to do it. When I saw [Vogt's] kid whipping around the dressing room, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity.

"I thought it would be fun to put Vogt's kid out there and give him a memory he'll never forget."

The stunt was so good that Team Toews and Philadelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek, a former Blue Jackets player, decided to use his own prop to replicate Johansen's move; Voracek carried Calgary Flames rookie forward Johnny Gaudreau toward the goal to try a shot.

"It was awesome," Johansen said. "I should have gone and got [Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin] Byfuglien and tried to carry him down the ice. I wish I had thought of it earlier."

Finally, Johansen said his final stunt came together at the last moment.

"We thought we'd try the 'Flying V' from 'Mighty Ducks', an old-school move," Johansen said.

Foligno enjoyed every bit of the evening and said one of the highlights was when the fans gave Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber a standing ovation for winning the hardest shot competition with a speed of 108.5 miles per hour.

"I thought the fans were great," Foligno said. "They really came out and supported us and had a lot of laughs when guys were funny.

"It was great to see the support for hockey and how excited the fans were to see hockey celebrated in the city. It's been a great weekend all around."

Players' talent, humor on display at Skills Competition

COLUMBUS -- Ryan Johansen won over the home crowd, Jakub Voracek and Johnny Gaudreau brought the comedy, and Shea Weber left his fellow all-stars in awe of his impressive slap shot Saturday night during the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition at Nationwide Arena.

Team Foligno, captained by Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno, won the competition by a 25-19 margin against Team Toews, captained by Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews. Though the score will likely be forgotten by Sunday, the highlights from the event will live on for a long time.

"It's been a great atmosphere here," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "It's a nice building with great fans here, and I think it's just been fun. Any time you're around this type of atmosphere, I think it's a special time and something you want to remember and cherish for the rest of your life. As far as the competition, you know, Weber's shot was pretty hard. Nobody shoots it that hard except for him. It's pretty impressive."

Weber, the Nashville Predators captain, dropped many jaws in the building with his 108.5 mph slap shot that won the AMP NHL Hardest Shot competition. He was 0.3 mph shy of tying Zdeno Chara's record shot of 108.8 mph, which the Boston Bruins captain had in the 2012 Skills Competition in Ottawa.

Record or no record, Weber's shot was one of the main highlights of the night among the all-star players here, especially since he missed on his first shot attempt, which registered at 101.8 mph.

"Yeah, it's not right; there are guys that gotta get hit with that thing," said Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who faced Weber head-to-head in the hardest shot competition. "It's amazing. It's something that he worked on. When your sticks are shooting good, that's what you get."

Weber's previous best in the Hardest Shot competition was 106.0 mph. He hit that number in 2012 to finish second behind Chara.

"You don't do that in games, and I don't practice it in practice, so it's such a weird thing to do," Weber said. "The nerves obviously showed on the first one when I put it in the corner."

Johansen, the Blue Jackets center, played to the home crowd to win the Honda NHL Breakaway Challenge, which was decided by a fan vote on Twitter.

Ryan Johansen

Center - CBJ

GOALS: 17 | ASST: 26 | PTS: 43

SOG: 106 | +/-: -12

Before going in for his first shootout attempt, Johansen pulled off his Blue Jackets sweater to reveal an Ohio State football jersey. The No. 5 he wore belongs to Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller. He scored on that attempt with his Blue Jackets jersey tied around his waist.

Johansen said he also went shopping Saturday afternoon for an Ohio State football helmet, but he couldn't find one that fit his head.

"My brain must be too big; just a smart kid, you know," Johansen said.

Johansen provided the heartwarming moment of the night on his second attempt, when he pulled Cole Vogt, the 7-year-old son of Blue Jackets trainer Mike Vogt, onto the ice to help him stick-handle his way in to score on Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.

Johansen said he planned the bit with Mike Vogt. He was originally thinking of pulling a young fan out of the stands to help him, but figured that would be tough; Cole Vogt was on skates, wearing a helmet, and had a stick in his hand.

"I saw [Vogt's] kid ripping around in the dressing room, and I thought, 'Perfect, he would love to have that opportunity,'" Johansen said. "So I talked to Mike, and we agreed upon it, and he was pumped up to be able to get a chance to do that, and something I think we all really enjoyed."

Voracek, the Philadelphia Flyers forward, took Johansen's idea one step further when he pulled Gaudreau, the Calgary Flames' 5-foot-9, 150-pound rookie, onto the ice to mimic what Johansen did with Cole Vogt. Gaudreau scored on St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott.

"I think that actually topped the night right there," Byfuglien said. "I think that one was the funniest."

Elliott said he didn't know what to do when he saw Voracek guiding Gaudreau down the ice.

"I just tried to do what Crawford did at the other end of the ice, try to imitate him," Elliott said.

For his third attempt, Johansen got Foligno, Keith, Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, and Claude Giroux of the Flyers to form the Flying V formation.

They dished the puck around as they skated toward the net in unison. Eventually Johansen got the puck between the hash marks, but his shot rang off the crossbar and hit off the protective netting.

"We were talking and just figured we'd try a Flying V there, 'Mighty Ducks' old school move," Johansen said. "I should have actually went and grabbed Byfuglien after [Voracek used Gaudreau] and tried to carry him down there. Unbelievable. I wish I would have thought …"

Nick Foligno

Left Wing - CBJ

GOALS: 18 | ASST: 24 | PTS: 42

SOG: 92 | +/-: 3

"I would have died to see that," Foligno said, interrupting Johansen.

Elliott also put on a bit of a show in the Breakaway Challenge by taking a selfie as Blues teammate Vladimir Tarasenko was coming down the ice to shoot on him. He also wore a blindfold on Tarasenko's second attempt and had Tarasenko shoot into a foam target typically used for the accuracy shooting competition for his third attempt.

"It's not about counting goals or counting saves; it's about trying to show the crowd our personalities a little bit, and I think they like to see that," Elliott said. "Obviously in the end in the shootout, you saw the skill these guys have. I was talking to Marc-Andre [Fleury], and it's not like in practice every guy that is coming down on you is a superstar, so it's pretty impressive."

Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin won the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater competition with a time of 13.103 seconds.

"Just [go all out] pretty much, and make sure you don't fall," Drouin said.

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane beat Toews head-to-head to win the DraftKings NHL Accuracy Shooting competition by hitting four targets in six tries that took him 13.529 seconds.

"Nice to have bragging rights," Kane said.

Team Foligno clinched its win with victories in the Gatorade NHL Skills Challenge Relay and the Discover NHL Shootout competition that capped the night.

"As long as the fans enjoy it, I think the guys enjoyed us going out and putting on a show," Toews said. "It changes the pace a little bit."


Weber wins Hardest Shot competition for first time

COLUMBUS — Zdeno Chara remains the king of the hardest shot competition, but not by much.

Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber won the AMP NHL Hardest Shot event at the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition with a blast of 108.5 miles per hour. It's the second-hardest shot in the history of the All-Star skills competition, narrowly missing the record of 108.8 mph set by Chara three years ago.

"I was surprised," Weber said. "I knew I got it. It's tough. You never know how hard it is until it registers on the gun. I got pretty much all I could into and you just hope for the best."

Weber's margin of victory was comfortable because the only other player to top 101 mph was Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. His path to victory was not.

The Nashville Predators captain missed the net with a 101.8 mph shot on his first attempt. Missing the net meant it did not count.

"The nerves obviously showed on the first one," Weber said. "You sit around for a couple hours and you're thinking about it. There is nerves. That might have been what happened."

Weber was the second shooter in the last group, so his 108.5 mph blast was the final shot of the contest. He didn't miss the net this time.

"It's not right. There's guys that got to get hit with that thing," Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien said. "It's amazing. It's something you work on."

Weber's Nashville teammate Filip Forsberg has spent plenty of time avoiding the path of his shots at practice.

"You just stay away," Forsberg said. "I always try to stay away. Every guy is doing the same thing. He doesn't shoot it as hard in practice to protect others guy, but it is a really scary thing. You saw how hard that was."

Chara was not here, in part because he missed a chunk of the season with a knee injury. Weber will likely have another chance to top Chara's record next season when the All-Star Game is at his home arena in Nashville.

"[Chara] is the guy to beat all the time," Weber said. "He's got the big shot. Honestly, I was nervous because there were some guys out there who can rip it. You never really know.

"I just want to keep getting better every year. As kids we strive to get better at everything we do and it is no different now. You don't want to get worse. You want to continue to get better."

NHL, Sportvision test program to track players, puck

COLUMBUS -- Tracking exactly what is happening all over an ice rink at all times has been nearly impossible, but the NHL and Sportvision are working on cracking that code.

The NHL and Sportvision tested player- and puck-tracking devices Saturday night at the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition in what could be the first step to revolutionizing the way data is collected in hockey.

"At the end of the day, we need to create a digital record of what happens on the ice, that is uniform across the League, highly accurate and allows fans to go as deep as they want to go but also allows us to tell stories," NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins said.

Sportvision is responsible for some of the leading technologies in other sports such as the yellow line that shows the yardage needed for a first down in football and the "K-Zone" that serves as a virtual strike zone in baseball telecasts.

The company developed a way to insert tracking chips inside pucks and a tracking device to slide inside the back of players' jerseys that interacted with 10 infrared cameras placed throughout Nationwide Arena for the test run Saturday. The amount of data the devices can track is immense, from the location of every player on the ice and the puck at all times and the speed at which the players and the puck are traveling. The data can be collected at a rate of 30 times per second.

"Hockey is an incredibly hard sport to follow," Sportvision chief executive officer Hank Adams said. "It is very dynamic. It is very fast. Players change shifts dynamically during the game. You have guys coming on and off the ice, and fans at home can't see that. With this technology, we can very simply tell fans who has come on, who has come off, how long their shift was.

"It can be very simple storylines like that, or very complex storylines; when you collect this data over a long period of time, you can really start helping fans understand the game better and maybe even help coaches understand the game better. What happens with the penalty kill against a power play in certain formations. We can start mining this very deep data."

Sportvision is thought to be a tool to further enhance hockey on TV.

"We're excited about trying to bring that in-arena experience into the living room," said Mathieu Schneider, NHL Players' Association special assistant to the executive director. "That's something that we've talked about for years and years -- that the experience at the rink doesn't translate to home. As technology gets better, we're able to see more of that."

Hockey is in the midst of a transition period in which advanced statistics and analytics are gaining more prominence. This tracking technology could someday provide even greater accuracy for some of these statistics and concepts like puck possession, zone entries and quality of competition.

For Saturday night, the NHL and Sportvision were focused on testing the equipment and the process of collecting the data. Collins said the League and the NHLPA will meet with Adams and his Sportvision group after going through the tests to determine the next course of action.

"While we're excited about doing this test, we're not exactly sure where this will all take us," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "This is, if I can coin a phrase, in the embryonic stages of a work in progress, but ultimately we are hoping to deliver the kind of data that will create insights and tell stories that avid and casual hockey fans will enjoy. In short, we are attempting to embark upon a journey that hopefully will enable us to create and then maintain a digital record of everything in our game and compile a complete digital history."

--- predicts Team Europe, Youngstars rosters

COLUMBUS -- One of the most intriguing aspects of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey that was announced Saturday is the addition of two teams that are not representing one country in particular.

In addition to the traditional power nations of Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, there will be a team of players from other European countries and a North American Youngstars team made up of players 23-and-under from Canada and the United States.

The exact rules to determine who will be eligible for the North American Youngstars team have not been set, but speculation on who will make that team, as well as Team Europe, will run rampant from now until the first 16 players for each of the eight teams must be named March 1, 2016. decided to take an initial run at predicting the rosters for the two teams. For the Youngstars team, a cutoff birth date of Sept. 18, 1992, was used because all players born after that date would still be 23 on the day the tournament starts on Sept. 17, 2016. There was also no minimum number of players that needed to be taken from Canada or the United States.

The first thing that jumps out at you about the Youngstars is the lack of quality goaltending, which could be a serious problem in a tournament like this. But otherwise, it looks like a competitive roster.

Team Europe, on the other hand, will perhaps be strongest in goal, with Jaroslav Halak of the New York Islanders, Frederik Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks and Jonas Hiller of the Calgary Flames potentially battling for the No 1 job.

The breakdown of the Team Europe roster was six players from Slovakia, five from Switzerland, four from Denmark, two each from Austria and Germany, and one player each from Belarus, Latvia, Norway and Slovenia.

The breakdown for the North American Youngstars team was 15 from Canada and eight from the United States.

Here are's projected 23-man rosters (13 forwards, seven defensemen, three goaltenders) for Team Europe and Team North American Youngstars in the 2016 World Cup:



Mikkel Boedker, Arizona Coyotes (Denmark)

Lars Eller, Montreal Canadiens (Denmark)

Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings (Slovakia)

Zemgus Girgensons, Buffalo Sabres (Latvia)

Michael Grabner, New York Islanders (Austria)

Mikhail Grabovski, New York Islanders (Belarus)

Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks (Slovakia)

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings (Slovenia)

Nino Niederreiter, Minnesota Wild (Switzerland)

Frans Nielsen, New York Islanders (Denmark)

Tomas Tatar, Detroit Red Wings (Slovakia)

Thomas Vanek, Minnesota Wild (Austria)

Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers (Norway)


Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins (Slovakia)

Christian Ehrhoff, Pittsburgh Penguins (Germany)

Roman Josi, Nashville Predators (Switzerland)

Mirco Mueller, San Jose Sharks (Switzerland)

Andrej Sekera, Carolina Hurricanes (Slovakia)

Dennis Seidenberg, Boston Bruins (Germany)

Luca Sbisa, Vancouver Canucks (Switzerland)


Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks (Denmark)

Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders (Slovakia)

Jonas Hiller, Calgary Flames (Switzerland)



Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers (Canada)

Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning (Canada)

Jack Eichel, 2015 NHL Draft eligible (United States)

Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens (United States)

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames (United States)

Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers (Canada)

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Canada)

Connor McDavid, 2015 NHL Draft eligible (Canada)

Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames (Canada)

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers (Canada)

Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks (United States)

Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets (Canada)

Ryan Strome, New York Islanders (Canada)


Cody Ceci, Ottawa Senators (Canada)

Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers (Canada)

Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins (Canada)

Seth Jones, Nashville Predators (United States)

Connor Murphy, Arizona Coyotes (United States)

Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Canada)

Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets (United States)


John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks (United States)

Zachary Fucale, Montreal Canadiens (Canada)

Malcolm Subban, Boston Bruins (Canada)

Captains revel in opportunity to assign Skills roles

COLUMBUS -- Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews felt a bit like an executive as he walked into a hotel conference room Saturday morning.

Confronted with a setup with six chairs and a television monitor showing what was essentially a draft board synched to the two laptop computers sitting on the side-by-side folding tables, Toews mustered a quick quip.

"In the war room, eh," he said.

Sort of, yeah.

Toews and his alternate captains, Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks and Rick Nash of the new York Rangers, sat across from Columbus Blue jackets forward Nick Foligno and his alternate captains, Chicago's Patrick Kane and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, on Saturday morning to select their lineups for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition which will take place Saturday night at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

The meeting was delayed because the arrival of Foligno, who lives nearby, was thrown off by downtown traffic caused by the All-Star 5K race on the city's streets.

"Who puts a 5K in downtown," an exasperated Foligno said as he raced into the room.

"They didn't put it there so you could run in it," Toews chirped back. "You could have drove around it."

The laughs continued as the captains went about selecting the players to compete in the respective competitions. Members of the NHL's Hockey Operations Department were on hand to answer any questions about the various rules for each competition, but for the most part the captains and alternates were on their own to figure out where each player would be slotted. It was a sign of how well they know each other.

They talked about right-handed vs. left-handed shots, hands, skating speed, and the various other skills of other players. They weren't exactly executives trying to build a team, but they could have passed for scouts.

"Pretty cool to play GM and coach for a day," Foligno said. "I was laughing at these guys, they knew lefty and righty stuff. I'm like, is this common knowledge, should I know every player in the League like this? It is pretty amazing what guys pick up on on each other."

Team Toews selected forwards Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars, Mike Hoffman of the Ottawa Senators,Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues and defenseman Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers for the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater competition. Team Foligno responded with four forwards: Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jiri Sekac of the Montreal Canadiens and Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres.

Team Toews was quick on the selections for the Honda NHL Breakaway Challenge, going with forwards Vladimir Tarasenko of the Blues, Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers and Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames. Chicago's Corey Crawford was selected as the goalie. Team Foligno went with forwards Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia's Claude Giroux, Ryan Johansen of the Blue Jackets and Blues goalie Brian Elliott.

Team Toews also selected Tarasenko to participate in the Gatorade NHL Skills Challenge Relay. They didn't mind making him work harder than some others.

"That's why we took the young guys," Getzlaf said.

Jonathan Toews

Center - CHI

GOALS: 14 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 42

SOG: 111 | +/-: 16

Team Toews went with an all-defensemen rotation of Chicago's Brent Seabrook, Ekblad, Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes and the obvious choice of Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators for the Amp NHL Hardest Shot competition. Team Foligno countered with Ovechkin, San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, Tampa Bay lightning forward Steven Stamkos and Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.

The Weber-Byfuglien showdown has the potential to be the best of the night.

Getzlaf, Nash and Toews put themselves in the DraftKings NHL Accuracy Shooting competition along with New York islanders forward John Tavares, Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron and New Jersey Devils forward Patrik Elias. Foligno and Kane put themselves in that one too, along with Vancouver Canucks forward Radim Vrbata, forward Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators, forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles' forward Anze Kopitar.

That's the one where they stand in place and try to hit the targets. That's the easy one.

"Had to find something," Toews said jokingly.

"Yep, no moving," Foligno said.

Team Toews was already more than halfway finished with its selections when Foligno looked up from his computer and said, "What, are guys already done?"

"Well, some of us came at 9:30, some of us ran a 5K," Getzlaf responded.

Doughty made his first appearance on the draft board in the Skills Challenge Relay. Team Foligno selected Stamkos for the one-timer part of the Skills Challenge Relay.

"You're going to use Stammer, for one-timers," Getzlaf said.

"Yeah, terrible one-timer, we're giving that one to you guys," Foligno responded, obviously joking.

As Team Foligno was still working on the Skills Challenge Relay participants, Team Toews had moved on to the Discover NHL Shootout competition. Getzlaf was not about to let Toews get away with sitting this one out, particularly because there are spots where they can get two points for a goal instead of one.

"Put yourself in there," Getzlaf said. "You're shooting twice with the money pucks."

Toews will only go once, but Seguin, Nash and Tavares are going twice for Team Toews.

Kane, Giroux, Stamkos, Kopitar, Johansen and Vrbata were chose as Team Foligno's initial Discover bonus-puck shooters. Foligno is the only player on his team going twice in the shootout competition.

All the goalies will be in the shootout competition.

"That was fun," Foligno said. "I think we've got a pretty good team."


Friday, January 23, 2015

Top pick in draft puts Blue Jackets together for game

COLUMBUS -- The fate of Columbus Blue Jackets forward Ryan Johansen was decided when teammate Nick Foligno, captain of Team Foligno, won the puck toss for the first selection of the 2015 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft presented by DraftKings.

That left no chance for Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews, leader of Team Toews, to swoop in and steal Johansen in front of the hometown fans at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on Friday.

True to his words to the media beforehand, Foligno made Johansen the top pick in a reunion of linemates with the Blue Jackets for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game at Nationwide Arena on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"[Johansen] had to be my first pick," Foligno said. "He's a guy who's battled with me all year long so I wanted to make sure he was first."

Johansen said Foligno didn't reveal his plans.

"He wouldn't give me any insight on what he was going to do," Johansen said. "I didn't know what was going to happen, but it's pretty cool to be on the same team."

The pairing means there will be no split allegiances for the home-team fans for All-Star Game.

"That's what I was going for," Foligno said. "I'm hoping the crowd is cheering for us all night long. He's a big part why I'm here."

Foligno and alternate captains Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings and Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks went with familiar faces the first three rounds, drafting Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith and Los Angeles forward Anze Kopitar.

"We had a strategy [for] the first few guys, but after that you go with the flow," Kane said.

There apparently was some strategy in round eight when Foligno chose Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien for the hardest-shot competition in the 2015 Honda NHL Skills Competition on Saturday (7 p.m. ET: NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) to counter Team Toews defenseman Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators.

"I like my team, I really do," Foligno said. "I'm going to sit down tonight and strategize what I'm going to do with the skills and get ready for [Saturday]."

Foligno got to fulfill a dream when he announced the first trade in All-Star draft history by acquiring Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel for Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin.

"I've always wanted to do this: We have a trade to announce," Foligno said.

He also flashed his sense of humor by saying, "It's worked out for both teams in the past."

On Sept. 18, 2009, Kessel was traded by the Boston Bruins to the Toronto Maple Leafs for first-round picks in the 2010 and 2011 NHL Drafts and a second-round pick in 2010. Boston used the No. 2 selection in 2010 to draft Seguin.

"That was all Team Toews coming to me with a trade on the table," Foligno said. "I talked to my assistants and figured we could make it happen. We tried to get a few draft picks in there.

"That trade was not my choice. I was pressured by my assistant captains. It was all in good fun."

The other highlight for Team Foligno was the selection of Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin with its second-to-last pick to deny him a chance to receive a car as the final player chosen. It became a running joke throughout the program how much Ovechkin wanted the 2015 Honda Accord.

"I made him sweat it out. It was great," Foligno said. "He was having more fun with us wanting to be the last pick. He made that pretty evident. He's such a good player. I'm glad he's on our team."

As for destroying Ovechkin's plan, "He's broken a lot of our dreams when he scores goals. It was really great to see him not get what he wanted," Foligno said jokingly.

"He's got a personality side of him that makes you want to love him. He's a great ambassador for the sport."

Washington plays at Columbus on Tuesday, so Ovechkin can have a chance at the last laugh. But first comes the All-Star Game.

"This game is all about fun," Johansen said. "We're going to be out there goofing around and trying to make some fancy plays."

Laughs, first-ever trade make for exciting All-Star draft

COLUMBUS -- NHL All-Star Weekend is a celebration of hockey and it is supposed to be fun.

The rosters for Team Foligno and Team Toews were selected Friday night during the 2015 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft, but the jokes and the entertainment stole the show.

Laughs were the soundtrack as Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno and Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews selected teams for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday and 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday.

"It was really fun. I was nervous going into it, but I had a great time with it," Foligno said. "The guys made it really easy. The personalities really came out. It was a lot of fun."

Foligno chose Ryan Johansen of the hometown Blue Jackets with the first pick of the draft. Johansen has 17 goals and 43 points in 45 games this season, but once Foligno won the puck flip to secure the No. 1 pick, he quickly made the decision to go with his Columbus teammate.

It was an early theme for Team Foligno. Alternate captains Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings selected teammates with the second and third picks of the draft. Kane announced defenseman Duncan Keith as a second-round pick, and Doughty nabbed center Anze Kopitar.

"It was actually a lot more of fun than I expected," Doughty said. "We had a lot of fun with the guys that I was drafting and the guys on the other team. I enjoyed it."

There was plenty of verbal jousting between the two leadership groups. At one point, Getzlaf chirped Team Foligno about only taking teammates, to which Doughty replied, "We shut him down pretty good" in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Toews also called Phil Kessel "one of the most coachable players in the League," a playful acknowledgement of some of the criticism the Toronto Maple Leafs star has endured in recent weeks.

"It's nice that they have my back," Kessel said. "It's all in fun. I think everyone had a good time tonight."

Steven Stamkos and Tyler Seguin went back-to-back in rounds four and five to Team Foligno, and they were wearing the same dress shoes. While Kathryn Tappen was interviewing them about their shoes, Getzlaf yelled out, "Is this NHL Network of E!?"

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin was interviewed at one point during the draft and held up a sheet of paper lobbying to be picked last because, "I want to be last. I need a car." He also held up the selection process at one point because he wanted a selfie with St. Louis Blues rising star Vladimir Tarasenko, a fellow Russian.

Ovechkin's desire to be the last pick was not fulfilled; Team Foligno grabbed him with the third-to-last pick.

In a surprise, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers and Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators each was awarded a 2015 Honda Accord, instead of just the last player picked (Forsberg).

"We kind of had it planned out," Doughty said. "He was lobbying to go last in the draft to get the car. We had it planned that he was going third to last no matter what."

Roberto Luongo lobbied to be picked by Team Toews because his kids liked the white jerseys better, and Toews obliged in the sixth round.

After being selected because he has "the most gel in his hair," Luongo said, "This is not gel. This is natural oil."

There was also a trade for the first time in the three years of the All-Star draft. After Foligno said, "I've always wanted to do this … we have a trade to announce," he traded Seguin to Team Toews for Kessel.

Kessel was traded by the Boston Bruins to the Maple Leafs in September 2009 for two first-round picks and a second-round pick. One of those picks ended up being the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, a kid from the Ontario Hockey League named Tyler Seguin.

Kessel has now made history twice in three tries in this format. He was the first player to be selected last at the original All-Star draft in 2011.

"I was heartbroken about that one," Toews said. "I didn't think it was going to come to that point and it happened so quick. Just kind of had to go with it. It's part of the business. Sometimes you've got to part ways with guys and players that you feel strongly about. That was the case there."


Blues goalie Elliott ends vacation for All-Star shot

COLUMBUS -- St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott was snorkeling with his wife, Amanda, off the coast of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday. Twenty-four hours later they were on their way to Columbus, by way of St. Louis so they could pick up some clothes and Elliott his gear.

Elliott's all-star vacation was supposed to last until Saturday; he cut it a day short because being part of the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend was too important to him and too big of an opportunity to pass up.

"From a young age being a goalie, whenever I got a chance to go on the ice, I always said, 'Yes,'" Elliott told during a phone interview Friday night before he boarded his flight from St. Louis to Columbus. "That's usually what happened in the summertime. I'd play a game and the next team would say they were missing a goalie and (ask) would I play. I always said, 'Yes.'

"With an honor like this, you can't turn it down. That honor doesn't get taken lightly and that's why I wanted to say yes and come as quickly as I could. It's just awesome to be able to do it."

Elliott had a voicemail from Blues general manager Doug Armstrong waiting for him when he got back from his snorkeling trip. He called Armstrong back, quickly said yes to the opportunity that was presented to him, and started making plans to travel to Columbus.

"We already had two full days [of vacation]," Elliott said. "We had our last game on Monday night, so we were there most of the day Tuesday, all of Wednesday and Thursday, so we still had a pretty good vacation as far as the all-star break goes. We said we're in, and we organized the flight plans after that."

Elliott said it has been hectic trying to organize everything, including getting hotel rooms and tickets to the events for his father and his brother, who were driving down from Toronto on Friday and likely were going to arrive before Elliott and his wife.

He wasn't complaining. He was thrilled that it all has worked out.

"It's not a normal thing, especially coming back from a country you've never been to before," Elliott said. "It's actually worked out pretty good."

It's not as if Elliott didn't earn his trip here to Columbus to play in the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Despite an injury that kept him out of the lineup for 14 games, Elliott leads the NHL with a 1.86 goals-against average and is fourth with a .930 save percentage in 22 appearances. He is 13-5-2.

"He's someone who has worked hard and deserves it, so he's excited to come here," said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who will play for Team Foligno with Elliott. "It's a good opportunity for him and I know when he was asked he kind of just jumped right on the opportunity."

It hasn't been easy for Elliott either. He's a two-time all-star now, but he's been cast off by the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche, then had to outlast Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Miller and Jake Allen to keep his job as the Blues' No. 1 goalie.

"It's not an easy thing to deal with, but it's kind of been there my whole career, even through college," said Elliott, who played at the University of Wisconsin. "I've always taken the approach to put your head down and work, and the results will take care of themselves when you don't question things."

Shattenkirk said he is impressed that Elliott has been able to deal with it all.

"I think that's the one thing that he has done well is that while everyone else has kind of pushed him aside and said it's not going to work, he's the one guy who has truly believed that it will," Shattenkirk said. "I really believe that he is probably one of the hardest-working guys in the NHL, one of the hardest-working guys I have ever played with because he plays with that chip on his shoulder. I think he has always wanted to prove himself as an elite goalie in this league, and if you look at his numbers, year after year he's there.

"It's great to see. He's someone who has worked really hard and someone who really deserves it."


All-stars find it 'fun to hang out with' competition

COLUMBUS -- Patrik Elias was surveying the room Friday, watching players mingle and talk with each other behind the stage at the 2015 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft presented by DraftKings. He recognized almost all of them, but admitted there were a few faces he couldn't place with the name, in particular Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons.

Forgive Elias. At 38, the New Jersey Devils forward is the oldest player participating in the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend. Florida Panthers rookie Aaron Ekblad wasn't born when Elias made his NHL debut for the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 7, 1995. Ekblad was 4 years old when Elias won the Stanley Cup for the first time.

"There are so many young players here," Elias said. "Good for them."

Good for him too.

Elias took the opportunity to gain perspective on the small fraternity he is part of. There are only so many people in the world who know what it takes and what it's like to play in the NHL. A handful of the best were in the same green room Friday waiting to find out if they'd be part of Team Toews or Team Foligno.

Elias appreciated the moment and the scene.

"There are millions of hockey players in the world, but only 700 or so make it in the NHL," Elias said. "The longer you're in the League you run in to each other, and you realize you're in this together. It's something you can share because you know what it takes."

There were no signs of rivalries or bad blood in the green room for the reasons Elias spoke about.

The Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and are battling for first place in the Atlantic Division this season, but that didn't stop Carey Price and Steven Stamkos from sitting at the same table with Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar.

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel, New York Islanders captain John Tavares and Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin sat together.

The Central Division is arguably the toughest in the NHL, but it didn't stop Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber, Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, and St. Louis Blues Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko from sitting together. Also at that table was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers.

There was quite a mix at one of the tables with Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk, Lightning center Tyler Johnson and Ekblad. Nobody was talking about the standings, their seasons, or future matchups.

Byfuglien eventually made his way over to joke around with former Chicago Blackhawks teammates Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford.

"Hockey is a cool sport like that," Kane said. "You can play and battle and get angry at, mad at, fight with all these guys on the ice, and then forget all of that stuff and be friends off the ice."

Crawford also noticed the fraternity atmosphere among the players. For him, though, it was even better he got to mingle with everybody at an event that not only celebrated the sport but gave the players a chance to be themselves and forget about the competition they engage in daily.

"I had no idea what to expect, but it's been great to meet the guys here and fun to hang out with them," Crawford said. "Our season is so intense and we have to stay so focused and committed, so to be able to let it out a bit without giving much energy is great. Hockey is a close-knit sport. We battle in the playoffs and try to kill each other, but we're all in this together."


2015 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft commentary

Fan Fair attracts all kinds of allegiances

COLUMBUS -- Where else but the 2015 NHL Fan Fair could fans of so many teams wearing so many hockey sweaters co-exist?

Thousands of (peaceful) fans flocked to the Greater Columbus Convention Center on Friday, the first of three days for the festival in conjunction with the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game at Nationwide Arena on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), creating a rainbow of colors.

In an unscientific survey of the crowd over a 45-minute period, at least 20 NHL teams were represented in a variety of old and new styles. The host Columbus Blue Jackets led the way but there was a large presence of Pittsburgh Penguins fans.

Defunct teams including the Hartford Whalers and Cincinnati Stingers were on display as people roamed 200,000 square feet of interactive games and exhibits.

"This was an eye-opening experience. We're looking forward to the rest of the weekend," Garry Kimber of Columbus said.

He was wearing an Erie Otters jersey, one of 80 game-worn jerseys he owns. He and his wife, Anita, have traveled to Ottawa, Toronto, San Jose, St. Louis and Washington to see games but never experienced anything like the Fan Fair.

"It's really amazing to see so many hockey fans in a setting like this," Anita Kimber said.

One family had dad in a Whalers jersey, mom wearing an Anaheim Ducks top, and daughter in a Detroit Red Wings outfit.

By far the most popular destination was the opportunity for photos with the Stanley Cup, but fans also were drawn to the slap shot and precision-passing challenges. The Stanley Cup was one of 20 NHL trophies to be viewed, but that wasn't the main focus for all.

"I'm here for the mascots," Anita Kimber said. "I have a bag full of (miniature) mascots I hope to get autographed."

Music pulsated and lights flashed as fans went from one end to the other to seek trading cards, merchandise, food and drink. One food chain had an eating area for children that was shaped like a giant penalty box.

There seemed to be something for everybody, starting with floor hockey for children to memorabilia for adults. Also, current and former NHL stars are making appearances.

In paying homage to the first All-Star Game in Columbus, the Hockey Hall of Fame had several display cases with jerseys and other mementos chronicling the history of hockey in Ohio. College and pro teams, including the NHL's Cleveland Barons, were given their due.

The 2015 NHL Fan Fair is open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


Columbus' Foligno, Johansen proud to show off city

COLUMBUS -- NHL All-Star Weekend is an opportunity for the two hometown players to showcase their city but also a respite from a hard season for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Forwards Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen will be the Blue Jackets' representatives for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game at Nationwide Arena on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky withdrew from the game after he sustained a lower-body injury Wednesday against the Winnipeg Jets.

The Blue Jackets (20-22-3) were expected to compete for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but are 14 points behind the Boston Bruins for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot, partly because numerous injuries have cost the Blue Jackets nearly 300 man-games.

"I don't want to focus on that right now," Johansen said. "I'm going to enjoy this experience and all the events here. Of course, when this weekend's over we really have to get off to a good start after the break."

The Blue Jackets resume play Tuesday at home against the Washington Capitals.

Foligno has 18 goals in 44 games, equaling the career high he set in 70 games last season. He'll captain one team at the All-Star Game while Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks will be the captain for the other side.

"Obviously I'm very proud of everything that's going on personally, but we play this game to win the Stanley Cup," Foligno said. "It's unfortunate that we've had some injuries that have caused our core guys to be out and a lot of guys have missed time."

What the Blue Jackets have done this season won't diminish the impact of hosting the All-Star Game, he said.

"It's a chance to showcase our city," Foligno said.

That's been a recurring theme for Foligno and Johansen since each was named to their first All-Star Game.

Columbus, which entered the NHL in 2000-01 as an expansion franchise, remains relatively unknown in hockey circles. Although Nationwide Arena was the site for the 2007 NHL Draft, it has hosted five playoff games in the Blue Jackets' history.

That makes Johansen and Foligno ambassadors to the other All-Stars.

"A few guys are asking where to go eat and hang out," Johansen said. "They seemed to have enjoyed their first day in the city. They'll get to know the city more the next couple of days."

The Arena District, with its plentiful bars, restaurants, shops and hotels, was built on the land around Nationwide Arena so everything is easy to get to during All-Star Weekend.

Johansen would know because he lives in the Arena District, although he is staying at a nearby hotel with the rest of the All-Stars.

"It's awesome; I've got six of my buddies who came to town," he said. "They're loving it. They love the whole setup."

He compared what Columbus has to offer in terms of convenience to his trip to Ottawa for the 2012 NHL All-Star Game as one of the Young Stars.

"A couple of [friends] were in Ottawa as well and they think this is 10 times better around here, just the set-up and how it's all so close together right here in downtown," Johansen said.

Nick Foligno

Left Wing - CBJ

GOALS: 18 | ASST: 24 | PTS: 42

SOG: 92 | +/-: 3

Foligno said he is thrilled by the reception the All-Star Game has received in the city.

"It's so great seeing hockey being the main focal point in Columbus the whole weekend," he said. "It's pretty impressive."

Sometimes it can be overwhelming. When Foligno sat down at an interview pod on the concourse of Nationwide Arena on Friday he immediately was engulfed by a wave of media and let out an expletive.

Then he saw the giant banner of himself in the background.

"Sorry for everyone that has to look at that," he joked, then said, "It's a pinch-yourself moment."

Maybe so, but his play this season has earned the respect of others.

"What stands out is his offensive production," said Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette, who will coach Team Toews at the All-Star Game. "He's a guy now who's hard to handle, hard to contain. He's always been a hard-working guy who brings a physical presence but now it seems there's a lot more than that.

"Maybe it's opportunity. You get some power-play time, you move up in the lineup, you get minutes and all of a sudden you gain more confidence. Sometimes players take off."

Johansen had his breakout season in 2013-14, setting career bests in goals (33), assists (30) and points (63). He has 17 goals and 43 points this season.

"My dad [Randall] was always telling me to keep an even keel and not get too high, not to get too low," he said. "The big thing for me is to focus on being consistent. Being a young guy [22], it's hard every game to be at your best."

Johansen already is benefitting from being around other All-Stars this weekend.

"It's cool to see relationships between some of the guys around the League throughout the years, whether they played together or are from the same hometown," he said. "Being a young guy like myself, I'm getting to know some of the older guys on different teams."

All-Star captains not stressed by NHL Fantasy Draft

COLUMBUS -- The NHL Draft often is called a crapshoot because of how difficult it is to project the future of 18-year-old hockey players.

The 2015 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft presented by DraftKings on Friday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) is the exact opposite of that.

There are no projections to be made for captains Nick Foligno of the host Columbus Blue Jackets and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, just a list of the best players in the world to choose from.

"I’m happy that I can't really screw this draft up; I can't really draft a bad player," Foligno said. "I'll be nervous I'm sure, but I'm going to have a great time."

Foligno will be helped at the draft table by alternate captains Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, while Toews will receive advice from Rick Nash of the New York Rangers and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks.

Each team of captains planned on spending hours Friday afternoon pouring over statistics and coming up with line combinations to make sure their respective teams have the right mix of veterans and young players and an even distribution of right-hand and left-hand shots.

OK, maybe not.

"I doubt we're going to meet, but I don't know. I'll have to talk to my captain," Getzlaf said. "[Toews] is pretty serious at some points so maybe he'll want to meet with us and we'll go over a little bit of it.

"I'm going to bring my empty portfolio and open it up like we're going to talk about something real."

Getzlaf isn't kidding.

He proved just how little he has thought of the draft process when he was asked who he would like to see be picked last overall.

"Maybe Doughty," Getzlaf said. "[Doughty] could use it; it would knock him down a little bit. Let him sweat it out at the end. He'd be real nervous too at the end if he's still up there."

When told Doughty is an alternate captain like him, Getzlaf felt vindicated that his lack of knowledge of the All-Star roster was genuine.

"See? There you go. I don't even know who the assistants are," he said. "I've got to get my list. I've got some research to do this afternoon."

Doughty, on the other hand, showed he had some semblance of an idea of what was going on when he was asked the same question.

"That's funny. I was talking to [Kings center Anze Kopitar], and doesn't the last pick get a car or something like that? So me and [Kopitar] were going to try to work out a deal to make him the last pick. But now that [Getzlaf] said that I'm hoping … is he a captain too?"

Yes, Drew. He is.

"Ah, so I can't draft him last either."

The captains also have the option to make a trade, something that never has happened at the All-Star Fantasy Draft, and something that was news to Toews.

"Is that for real?" he asked.

Jonathan Toews

Center - CHI

GOALS: 14 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 42

SOG: 111 | +/-: 16

The player who gets picked last in the draft becomes the star of the show, in a way, but it's the type of notoriety no player particularly wants even though there usually is a nice prize attached to it. Toews and Foligno have the fate of that player in their hands, but both claim not to be targeting anyone in particular.

Toews said if he had his way, Kane would be picked last, knowing full well that's impossible. And Foligno was comfortable in the knowledge it wouldn't be him.

"I still think everyone's pride doesn't want to go last, so no matter what the car is they don't want to be the last guy picked," he said. "I'm just glad I'm the one picking and don't have to worry about that."

Ultimately the only real strategy involved in an event like this was described perfectly by Doughty, taking into account the spirit of an event and a weekend like this one.

"No matter who you draft you're getting an All-Star," Doughty said. "I kind of more so want to draft guys I know, guys I've hung out with in the past. I just want to have a room full of guys that want to have fun, that are relaxed and just enjoying the moment."

Top NHL prospects fill out AHL All-Star roster

The brightest stars in the American Hockey League will be at Utica Memorial Auditorium for the 2015 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Turning Stone Resort Casino.

Some of the best young players in professional hockey, representing all 30 National Hockey League organizations, will play in an East vs. West format. The 46 players heading to Utica include 18 first- and second-round NHL draft picks; 36 of this year's All-Stars already have NHL experience, including 14 who have skated in an NHL game in 2014-15.

Among them are:

Alex Khokhlachev , C, Providence Bruins (Boston Bruins ) -- The 21-year-old Moscow native made his NHL debut with the Bruins last season and has skated in three NHL games this season. He's also starred for Providence; in 34 games he leads all Providence skaters in points (28) and assists (19), and is tied for the team lead in power-play goals (three).

Khokhlachev made his North American professional debut with Providence during the 2012-13 season, skating in 11 AHL games after splitting the first half of the season between Moscow Spartak in the Kontinental Hockey League and the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. His nine goals in 12 games during the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs tied for the most goals in a single postseason in Providence history.

Vladislav Namestnikov

Center - TBL

GOALS: 3 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 7

SOG: 29 | +/-: 3

Vladislav Namestnikov, C, Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning ) -- Namestnikov was selected by the Lightning with the 27th pick of the 2011 NHL Draft. After putting up 139 points in 131 OHL games with the London Knights, Namestnikov 21 points in 44 AHL games as a rookie in 2012-13. The following season he had 48 points in 56 games and earned a call-up to the Lightning.

This season the 22-year-old has three goals and seven points in 25 NHL games; he had his first NHL goal and NHL assist against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 13. Touted as a playmaker, Namestnikov's growing two-way game makes him an integral piece to the Lightning's future and a core part of the development structure in Syracuse.

Derrick Pouliot , D, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins ) -- Pouliot's defensive prowess has fit perfectly with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes' defense-first style of play. Drafted No. 8 by Pittsburgh in 2012, Pouliot tops Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in points (21) and assists (14). The 21-year-old first-year pro also leads the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defensemen with seven goals.

An injury kept him sidelined for months during the offseason, but Pouliot hasn't missed a step this season. He's almost a point-per-game player in the AHL, and has one goal and two assists in eight NHL games; he scored his first NHL goal on his first shot in his NHL debut Dec. 20 against the Florida Panthers.

Matt Dumba , D, Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild ) -- Drafted by the Wild one spot ahead of Pouliot at No. 7, Dumba is in his first full professional season after a decorated junior career.

The 20-year-old began the season in Minnesota and has two goals and three assists in 23 NHL games. He has skated with Iowa since being reassigned Nov. 29. In 18 AHL games Dumba has 12 points, second among Iowa rookies.

Teemu Pulkkinen

Left Wing - DET

GOALS: 1 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 1

SOG: 10 | +/-: 0

Teemu Pulkkinen, LW, Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings ) -- Beginning his professional career in his native Finland at 17, Pulkkinen is a prime example of the successful model that Detroit drafting embodies. Taken in the fourth round (No. 111) in the 2010 draft, Pulkkinen made his North American professional debut with Grand Rapids late in the 2012-13 season, and had three goals and two assists in 14 postseason games to help the Griffins win the Calder Cup.

Last season he had 59 points in 71 AHL games and got into three late-season NHL games. This season the 23-year-old leads the Griffins in points (39), goals (20) and assists (19). That strong play earned him another trip to Detroit; he's played in six games and scored his first NHL goal Jan. 20 against the Wild.

Ty Rattie , RW, Chicago Wolves (St. Louis Blues ) -- A prolific scorer during his junior career with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, Rattie was a second-round pick (No. 32) at the 2011 draft. The 21-year-old has continued his scoring prowess in the AHL.

He had 31 goals and 48 points in 72 games as a rookie last season and earned a call-up to the NHL; this season his 17 goals are tied for fourth in the AHL and he's second on the Wolves with 27 points.

The 2015 AHL All-Star Classic will be broadcast live to over 100 million homes; check the extensive broadcast schedule available at for the network in your area. Be part of the conversation online also with #AHLAllStar, as all Facebook posts, Instagram photos, and Tweets including that hashtag have a chance to be included in a fan gallery hosted on

Sabres' Girgensons looks forward to All-Star weekend

Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons is a pretty low-key guy.

He just likes to chill out when he is away from the rink. At the rink, he hates to talk about himself and will usually try to deflect the conversation toward teammates or another topic.

So it isn't difficult to see that the 21-year-old Latvian is not entirely comfortable with the spotlight provided by his countrymen during the voting for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game. Hockey-mad Latvians outdueled Chicago Blackhawks fans in stuffing the ballot box, resulting in Girgensons receiving the most votes of any player.

In the voting, the fans chose the first six All-Stars. The second-year center received 1,574,896 votes, more than 300,000 ahead of the runner-up, Chicago forward Patrick Kane.

Girgensons is immensely popular back home, not only for his exploits with the Sabres but for his contributions to the Latvian national team in the World Championships and the 2014 Sochi Olympics. How popular? A Latvian rap group made a song and video about him and his hockey-playing success.

This season, Girgensons has been a beacon of hope for the struggling Sabres. He leads them in goals (13), even-strength goals (11) and shorthanded goals (two). He's also tops among Buffalo's forwards in average time on ice (19:03). caught up to Girgensons during Buffalo's recent stop to play the New Jersey Devils and discussed the viral video campaign, Girgensons' love of his country and international hockey, and what he likes to do when he is away from the rink.

Obviously, this All-Star Game is going to serve as a bit of an introduction to those fans who are not too familiar with you. Is there anything you would like them to know about you?

"Probably that I am from Riga, Latvia. Anything else they want to know about me they can probably find out online. There's nothing too special about me, that is for sure."

I know you are proud of being from Latvia. What is the relationship like between yourself and other players over here and the fans back home?

"They take pride in hockey. Latvian fans are absolutely crazy about it. First thing they always look forward to is the World Championship every year. Whenever there is an NHL player from Latvia, they admire the guy that has taken that route and they support him."

So international hockey is a big deal for you?

"Definitely. I have been part of the national team every single time since I have been 15 years old and it's always an honor to put on that jersey. It's an honor to represent your country and that flag."

I would assume the Olympics has to have been the cream of the crop so far?

"The Olympics were just a different experience, just a different level than the World Championships. An amazing experience, absolutely amazing."

What do you remember about it?

"I remember the Canada game; that was a fun game. Definitely just making the quarterfinals after the Switzerland game, that was awesome. Just the [Olympic] Village, seeing other athletes, being around that area was pretty fantastic."

Was there anybody you wanted to meet that you did or regret that you didn't meet among the athletes at the Olympics?

"Not really. I talked to a couple of people in the cafeteria, but nobody that well-known. I wish I could have met some big guy back in Europe, but I don't follow those sports that much, so I don't know about it either."

Did anybody famous come looking for you in the Village?

"I don't think so. It was just a few Latvians. Our teams and a few speed skaters and we pretty much stuck together."

In that Olympic tournament, Sandis Ozolinsh was the Latvian captain and he seemed so revered by the other Latvian players. What's he like?

"He's a leader. He's a great player. He's a great teammate off the ice. He looks pretty mean on the ice, but he is a funny guy off the ice. It's amazing that I could play on that team with him because I grew up watching him. Just to get to play those couple of games with him was a big honor."

Had you played with him on a team before when you were younger?

"No, first time."

He has to be an intimidating guy to meet?

"Yeah, definitely. If I was a little bit younger, I don't know that I would have said that much to him. It was fun to talk to him though."

What has it been like for you to live through this whole "Vote for Zemgus" viral moment thing that landed you as one of the first six All-Stars, along with five Chicago Blackhawks ?

"I've just been going with it. I haven't paid too much attention to it. I check my Twitter every day and somebody is saying something good or bad. I just kind of take it day by day and not really look too much into it. "

Are you going to have family come into town for the game?

"Yeah, they were coming into town anyway. Just my mom and dad. I will have my girlfriend and her family as well."

What are you looking most forward to about All-Star Weekend?

"I haven't thought that much about it. I guess just meeting the other big-time players because there are some personalities in there."

Which skill competition do you think you will be the best at?

"I don't know. Being a young guy, they will probably throw me in the skating competition. That's probably what I am best at, so I don't mind that."

What do you do to relax and get away from hockey?

"You know, probably just go on the couch, play some Xbox, watch some TV. I think most hockey players just do that because you get time off but it is not too much. When you get it, you want to rest as much as you can."

Favorite TV show?

"'Criminal Minds.'"


"I don't know, it just attracts me. Every episode isn't tied together, so you can watch it whenever you want to."

So when you are all done playing hockey, you will probably become a profiler?

"I don't know about that, but probably can get some skill out of the show if it is all true."

What about Xbox? What do you play?


What team?

"I got Barcelona."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fantasy top 30 goalies: Hutchinson evolves into gem

Every Thursday during the season,'s Evan Sporer will provide you with in-depth analysis of goaltenders. From updated weekly top 30 rankings to trending players and more, Sporer will be your go-to guy for advice on fantasy goalies all season long.


Three games played.

Entering this season, that encompassed Michael Hutchinson's NHL resume. The 24-year-old, former third-round pick of the Boston Bruins was entering his fifth year as a professional hockey player. The bulk of that time was spent in the Bruins organization, until Hutchinson signed as a free agent with the Winnipeg Jets following the 2012-13 season.

His career in Winnipeg began by mirroring his time in Boston: Hutchinson spent 28 games in the ECHL with the Ontario Reign and 24 games in St. John's of the American Hockey League. And then, finally, Hutchinson made his NHL debut late last season, accumulating all of his NHL experience.

This doesn't exactly read like the timeline of one the League's hottest and most successful goaltenders, yet that's exactly what Hutchinson has been this season. He is consistently among the top-five League leaders in goals-against average and save percentage after sprinting past incumbent starter Ondrej Pavelec and stealing the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. (Pavelec has technically started more games, but also started 14 of the Jets' first 16 this season before Hutchinson started to play more.)

Hutchinson, from the perspective of value provided based on when the player was selected, is providing the highest return on investment for any fantasy player this year. In preseason, Hutchinson was ranked 364th among fantasy players on Yahoo and 58th among goalies. His meteoric rise isn't only surprising because of his complete lack of NHL experience, or because the Jets themselves have probably exceeded expectations from a team perspective, but because Hutchinson has never been close to this good from a numbers standpoint at any level.

Next to those three NHL games entering this season, Hutchinson had played 111 games in the AHL and 58 in the ECHL. To date, Hutchinson has played 24 NHL games, meaning each of his minor-league stints is much better to analyze, with his AHL time actually an appreciable sample.

And those numbers didn't purport a goalie capable of sustaining a .935 save percentage in the NHL, yet that is what Hutchinson has been this season for Winnipeg. In those 111 AHL games, Hutchinson's save percentage was .917, considerably lower than how he's performed for the Jets. To put it in plainer terms, had Hutchinson been performing at the same level in the AHL, he would have allowed about 50 fewer goals. Keep in mind that over a 111-game span that's a very significant number.

And though his ECHL sample was smaller, and his numbers were better, it wasn't by much. His save percentage in those 58 games was .920. These numbers didn't scream NHL-mainstay, which is likely why it took so long for Hutchinson to make it this far.

Michael Hutchinson


RECORD: 14-4-2

GAA: 1.90 | SVP: .935

It's also why any bets being placed on Hutchinson sustaining this level are very much hedged. For starters, since the 2009-10 season, only 11 times has a goalie who played at least 27 games finished with a save percentage north of .930 (Tuukka Rask has done it twice, meaning only 10 different goalies have done it. Two more who played at least 15 games did it during the 48-game 2012-13 schedule.).

Even in his four seasons playing juniors in the Ontario Hockey League, Hutchinson's numbers weren't near what he's putting up now. In 130 games between the Barrie Colts and the London Knights, Hutchinson had a very average .915 save percentage. It's what made him a third-round pick instead of a first or second.

As far as the Jets and fantasy owners are currently concerned though, none of that matters. Winnipeg is in possession of a wild-card spot, hoping to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in 2011. (Its last and only playoff appearance was in 2007, when the Thrashers lost in the first round.) Hutchinson has catapulted more than 300 spots from his original fantasy ranking, up to 40th overall. Among goalies, Yahoo has Hutchinson ranked eighth, ahead Jaroslav Halak of the New York Islanders, Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Rask of the Boston Bruins, the very franchise goalie Hutchinson was acres behind on the organizational depth chart for the first three years of his professional career.

This could just be a flash in the pan for the Jets crease-pilot, or this could be the maturation of a very good goaltender. Time will root out that question, but for the time being, Hutchinson has turned into a gem of a fantasy asset.

Semyon Varlamov


RECORD: 12-10-6

GAA: 2.66 | SVP: .921


Semyon Varlamov , Colorado Avalanche

Much like last season, Colorado has found success recently with meager possession numbers and heavy reliance on Varlamov. It seems to be working (again) for the time being. Varlamov has stopped 321 of the 342 shots he faced in January, good for a .939 save percentage.


Jonathan Quick , Los Angeles Kings

It's always the wrong time to count out the Kings, but as far as Quick is concerned, the world-beating numbers he was putting up earlier in the season are, as many predicted, regressing. Quick hasn't won since Jan. 1 (going 1-3-3 in seven appearances since then), with an .863 save percentage in those games. Compare that to the .932 save percentage Quick had the first three months of the season, and Quick is probably closest to where he sits overall at .912.

Joni Ortio


RECORD: 4-1-0

GAA: 1.98 | SVP: .931


Joni Ortio , Calgary Flames

With Karri Ramo injured, Ortio was recalled from Adirondack of the AHL. Since being inserted into the lineup, Ortio has been very impressive for the most part. He has won four of his five starts with a sparkling .931 save percentage. He knocked off the Vancouver Canucks, the San Jose Sharks, and the Kings in three of those appearances, before his first sub-par outing of the season Wednesday against the Anaheim Ducks. If Ortio can shake off his first defeat, he has a chance to earn more starts for the Flames down the stretch.


These modified re-rankings are a projection of a goalie's fantasy output for the entire season. Our ranks are based on volume categories like games played, wins, saves, goals-against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%). The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings from last week (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). It is important to note that our rankings reflect sheer fantasy value, not talent. A less-talented goalie could be ranked higher due to their team's strong defense and offense.

1Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (+1) 16Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ (SAME)
2Carey Price, MTL (+1) 17Ryan Miller, VAN (+3)
3Brian Elliott, STL (+1) 18Antti Niemi, SJS (-1)
4Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT (+2) 19Kari Lehtonen, DAL (+2)
5Corey Crawford, CHI (SAME)20Jonathan Bernier, TOR (-2)
6Roberto Luongo, FLA (+1) 21Cory Schneider, NJD (+1)
7Frederik Andersen, ANA (+1) 22Petr Mrazek, DET (+2)
8Ben Bishop, TBL (+1) 23Devan Dubnyk, MIN (SAME)
9Jaroslav Halak, NYI (+1) 24Joni Ortio, CGY (NEW)
10Braden Holtby, WAS (+3) 25Antti Raanta, CHI (SAME)
11Tuukka Rask, BOS (SAME)26Cam Talbot, NYR (+1)
12Michael Hutchinson, WPG (+3) 27Jake Allen, STL (+2)
13Jonathan Quick, LAK (-1) 28Alex Stalock, SJS (SAME)
14Craig Anderson, OTT (SAME)29Carter Hutton, NAS (NEW)
15Semyon Varlamov, COL (+4) 30Anton Khudobin, CAR (NEW)

Dropped out: Jonas Hiller

Key injuries: Pekka Rinne, Jimmy Howard, Martin Jones, Steve Mason, Jonas Gustavsson, Karri Ramo