If popularity can be judged solely by the All-Star voting totals, there might not be a more beloved player in the League than Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
Crosby, who entered the week with a League-best 40 points, is the runaway leader in the 2011 All-Star Fan Balloting, presented by XM, with 218,791 votes. He's the first player in the League with more than 200,000 votes.
The 2011 NHL All-Star Game Presented by Discover will feature the Ultimate Fantasy Draft this year, where the All-Stars will pick their own teams from a pool of 42 players. Fans can vote six players into that pool: The top three forwards, two defenseman and goaltender from fan balloting will be guaranteed a roster spot at this year's game, which will be hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Currently leading the forward race are Crosby, the Lightning's Steven Stamkos and the Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks' Duncan Keith and the Flyers' Chris Pronger are the top two defensemen, and the Canadiens' Carey Price leads all goaltenders in voting that runs until Jan. 3, 2011.
While Crosby leading the forward race is no surprise, that Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has slipped out of the top three certainly raises some eyebrows.
The Russian scoring sensation is one of the most dynamic goal-scorers of his generation. He has 10 goals in 25 games this season. However, he's tied for second in the League with 22 assists and is third with 32 points as the Capitals once again have taken up residence at the top of the League's standings.
With more than five weeks of voting to go, there's ample opportunity for Ovechkin to state his case and make up the 21,000 votes that separate him from Stamkos.
Stamkos, who leads Toews for the second spot by just over 2,000 votes, arguably has been the best player in the League for the first quarter of the season. He leads the League with 21 goals and is second to Crosby with 39 points, despite playing one fewer game than Crosby.
The Blackhawks' Patrick Kane is fifth among forwards, followed by the Canadiens Michael Cammalleri, the Flyers' Mike Richards, the Penguins Evgeni Malkin, the Flyers' Claude Giroux and the Red Wings' Pavel Datsyuk.
While the names in play for the top three forward spots are among the younger players in the League, the battle for the top defense spots includes a pair of veterans.
Keith, the 2010 Norris Trophy winner, holds a slim lead on Pronger and the Red Wings' Nicklas Lidstrom.
Keith has been better recently after a rough start, and has 15 points in 26 games while leading all players in ice time with an average of 27:35 per game. Only a scant 93 votes separate him from Pronger. The 36-year-old Philadelphia stalwart is going strong despite missing all of training camp and the first two games of the regular season following late-summer knee surgery. Since his return, he's assumed the mantle of No. 1 defenseman in Philadelphia, and has 12 points and a plus-3 rating. Despite his knee issues, he's second on the team at 22:24 of ice time per game.
Fewer than 3,000 votes behind Pronger is Lidstrom, the six-time Norris winner who at age 40 seems like he's ready to add another trophy to his overflowing case. His 17 assists and 20 points are tied for fourth among all defensemen, and his 24:12 average ice time per game is a team-high.
The Penguins' Kris Letang is fourth, followed by the Flyers' Kimmo Timonen, the Kings' Drew Doughty, the Blackhawks' Brent Seabrook and Canadiens rookie P.K. Subban.
Price, who is having a comeback season for the Canadiens, has been rewarded with 145,726 votes, second only to Crosby among all players. It's even more impressive when you realize he's a write-in candidate.
Second to Price is Flyers Russian rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, another write-in candidate who trails Price by more than 29,000 votes.
The Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury is third, followed by the Blues' Jaroslav Halak and the Bruins' Tim Thomas.
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