NHL fans have taken notice of Kris Letang's sensational start to the season, and have rewarded the Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman with a rocket-ride up the All-Star voting standings.
Letang, whose 26 points are second among all NHL defensemen, has jumped to first in All-Star fan balloting among blueliners for the 2011 All-Star Game presented by Discover, moving past a pair of future Hall of Famers and the defending Norris Trophy winner in the process.
Letang picked up nearly 95,000 votes in a week to move from fourth to first, passing the Flyers' Chris Pronger, the Red Wings' Nicklas Lidstrom and the Blackhawks' Duncan Keith in the process. Letang's 210,807 votes are second among all players.
The 2011 All-Star Game 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.
Pronger garnered enough votes to hold onto the second defense spot behind Letang in voting totals released today by the NHL. The Penguins' Sidney Crosby, the Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews and the Lightning's Steven Stamkos, and Canadiens goalie Carey Price retained their spots from last week's voting.
Crosby, the NHL's leading scorer, maintained his sizable lead at forward. His picked up more than 101,000 votes since last week, increasing his total to 319,809, the most among all players. Toews holds a 5,000-vote lead on Stamkos for third, with Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin a surprising fourth.
Ovechkin hasn't been the explosive goal-scorer fans are used to -- he has just 12 in 29 games -- but he's third in the League with 35 points and is on pace for a career-best 65 assists. He trails Stamkos, the League's second-leading scorer, by more than 22,000 votes. However, with the well-known passion of Caps fans -- as well as three more weeks to sway the voters -- it's possible Ovechkin could jump into the top three.
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin is fifth, followed by the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane, Flyers captain Mike Richards, the Canadiens' Michael Cammalleri, Flyers forward Claude Giroux and Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk.
Giroux, with 147,993, leads all write-in candidates at the position.
Pronger, who was second to Keith last week, now leads him by more than 5,800 votes after picking up 57,000-plus votes since last week. Lidstrom, the six-time Norris Trophy winner for the Red Wings, trails Keith by just under 10,000 votes.
Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen is fifth, followed by Canadiens rookie P.K. Subban, the Blackhawks' Brent Seabrook, the Kings' Drew Doughty, Mike Green of the Capitals and Brian Rafalski of the Red Wings. The Thrashers' Dustin Byfuglien, who leads all defensemen in goals and points, is 11th in the voting.
Price, whose 209,025 votes are third among all players, continues to hold a substantial lead on Flyers rookie Sergei Bobrovsky. Price leads the League with 16 wins, and ranks in top five among goaltenders in goals-against average (1.96, fifth), save percentage (.935, third) and shutouts (four, second), is about 40,000 votes ahead of the Philadelphia rookie.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is third, but he's narrowed the gap between him and Bobrovsky to just over 17,000 votes, from 24,000-plus last week.
The Bruins' Tim Thomas is fourth, the Blues' Jaroslav Halak is fifth; last week, those positions were reversed.
Fan balloting runs through Jan. 3, 2011, at Vote.NHL.com.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org