|The Blackhawks' Patrick Kane leads all rookies with 31 assists and 40 points. ( Patrick Kane highlight video )|
The rosters for the NHL’s annual YoungStars Game were announced Tuesday. The 16 rookies, six of which are teenagers, will play a 12-minute game of 3-on-3 as part of the Dodge/NHL SuperSkills Competition Saturday, Jan. 26 at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
The star power among this group of newbies already is high, despite the fact that only four of them had previous NHL experience, totaling just 40 games before this season, and all four Western Conference forwards are teenagers. Three of them were selected in this past June’s NHL Entry Draft.
Kane again will team up with Edmonton Oilers center Sam Gagner, the sixth overall pick last June, and the youngest player in the League at 18. Gagner, who has 16 points in 43 games this season, and Kane combined for 263 points last season while playing with the London Knights of the OHL.
Phoenix Coyotes left wing Peter Mueller and St. Louis Blues left wing David Perron also were selected for the Western Conference. Perron, who has 18 points through 31 games, was a first-round choice this past June. Mueller, fifth among rookies with 22 points, was the eighth overall selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
Both Mueller and Erik Johnson are from Bloomington, Minn., and along with Jack Johnson, a native of Indianapolis, they’re recent graduates of the United States National Team Development Program. The trio and Kane also helped the United States take home the bronze medal at the World Junior Championships last January.
Erik Johnson overcame an early season injury to put together a fine first half. He’s a plus-10 with 16 points, including 13 assists, for the resurgent Blues. Jack Johnson, who played five games with the Kings last season, has played in all 46 games this season.
Rounding out the Western Conference’s defense are Alexander Edler of the Vancouver Canucks and Matt Niskanen of the Dallas Stars. Edler, who played 22 NHL games last season, leads all rookies with a plus-18 rating. Niskanen is second at plus-14.
The hometown fans at Philips Arena will get to root for one of their own during the 12-minute YoungStars Game as Thrashers defenseman Tobias Enstrom leads the Eastern Conference’s defense.
Enstrom, who is third among rookies with 26 points, was drafted in the eighth round, 239th overall, in 2003. He spent the last four seasons in the Swedish Elite League. He’s 23-years-old, but he’s not the oldest player in the game.
The grandpa in this event is Tampa Bay defenseman Mike Lundin, who was born Sept. 24, 1984. Enstrom was born 42 days later, on Nov. 5.
Lundin, who spent the last four seasons at the University of Maine, easily is the most surprising YoungStar. Prior to training camp, Tampa coach John Tortorella never had seen him play. There was talk of him winding up in the ECHL out of training camp, but 45 NHL games later he’s a top-five defenseman for the Lightning.
Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Marc Staal of the New York Rangers round out the East’s blue line. Staal’s older brother, Eric, is an All-Star reserve for the Eastern Conference. His younger brother, Jordan, was a YoungStar last season.
Pittsburgh center Tyler Kennedy, Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky and Boston’s bruising left wing Milan Lucic, who, at 19, is the East’s lone teenager, also were selected at forward for the Eastern Conference.
Kennedy has eight goals and four assists through 30 games and Dubinsky has four goals and 10 assists while playing in all of the Rangers’ 46 games. Lucic has shown some offensive flair to his physical game as well with five goals and four assists in 39 games.
The YoungStars will play two six-minute periods of running time. One faceoff will start each period. If the puck leaves the ice, another will get thrown on. If a team scores, the three players have to retreat to their defensive side of center ice before attacking again. For a team to be declared the victor, it will have to win each period.
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