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Half of 2011 ASG roster making its All-Star debut

Tuesday, 01.11.2011 / 11:05 AM / 2011 NHL All-Star Game - Presented by Discover

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Half of 2011 ASG roster making its All-Star debut
With 21 first-time selectees, half of the participants in the 2011 NHL All-Star Game will be making their debut in the midseason classic.
Two were heralded No. 1 draft picks, while another two were eighth-round picks -- a draft round that no longer exists.

But today, Steven Stamkos, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien all share one very important thing in common -- they're all first-time All-Stars, joining 17 other players who will all make their initial All-Star appearance when All-Star Weekend kicks off Friday, Jan. 28.

Stamkos, the first pick of the 2008 Entry Draft, is following his breakout 51-goal season with 31 goals in his first 43 games this season, putting him on pace for 59.

"I'm extremely excited to be selected to participate in the All-Star game," Stamkos said. "I would really like to thank my teammates and coaches for helping me achieve this honor.  I'm excited to be joining (teammate) Marty (St. Louis) and I am looking forward to the experience."

After a rugged start, Fleury mostly has been flying ever since. He won 11-straight games in November and December, and rode the popularity that came with it to the third-most votes in All-Star fan balloting.

Then there are the Thrashers' twin All-Star defenders, Byfuglien and Enstrom. They were taken six spots apart at the 2003 Entry Draft, with the Thrashers selecting Enstrom with pick No. 239, followed by the Blackhawks picking Byfuglien at No. 245. From those auspicious beginnings, however, each has grown into deserving first-time All-Stars.

Byfuglien, in his first full NHL season as a defenseman, leads all players at his position with 16 goals and 41 points. Enstrom, considered the more defensive-minded of the pair, is third with 38 points.

"Enstrom has been great," Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this season. "When Buff is up and gets caught, Toby saves the day. They are a great pair together -- the big guy and the little guy. Toby is so good without the puck, but he's good when he gets it. He's composed with it and he holds it and gives Buff a chance to wind up and get going. Together they have been wonderful. They are like Mutt and Jeff and it's been wonderful to watch."

Of all the first-timers, it's likely none will be as well-received as the Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. Nothing like playing your first All-Star Game in front of your home fans.

"Obviously I'm really excited," Ward told reporters. "It's pretty special to be recognized as an All-Star in this League. … This being my first All-Star appearance, and to have it in your home building is a special experience. I'm really looking forward to it."

The Stars' Brad Richards and the Canucks' Daniel Sedin are the oldest of the first-timers at 30. In his 10th season, Richards is sixth in the League with 49 points and is on pace for a career-best 93 points. Sedin is third with 25 goals and 54 points.

Joining Sedin as a first-timer is his Canucks teammate, Ryan Kesler. He's already scored 20 goals for the fourth-straight season, and with 23 in 41 games, he's on pace for a career-best 46.

Flyers forward Claude Giroux, in his second full season, has done enough to be the Eastern Conference leader's sole All-Star. His 16 goals and 36 points are second on the team.

"Obviously, it is pretty exciting and should be a really good experience," Giroux told his team's website. "I really don't know what to say. I never thought I'd be able to accomplish this, but it is exciting. Hopefully I can perform well."

There's a bunch of players feeling pretty excited today, actually.

Ales Hemsky of the Oilers missed time with a groin injury, but that pain is gone, and now he's got a little extra good feeling with the first All-Star selection of his eight-season NHL career.

Patrick Sharp also will see some familiar faces when he arrives in Raleigh. The League's fourth-leading goal-scorer is one of four Blackhawks that will play in the All-Star Game, but he's the only first-timer in the group. Coach Joel Quenneville and assistant coach Mike Haviland will coach one of the teams.

"I feel great about it," Sharp told reporters. "It's a great individual accomplishment. … It's going to be fun to be there with some teammates, and the coaches will there as well."

Sharp said he was hoping to land on Quenneville's team.

"We were trying to make a little side deal that if I was on his team, he'd double shift me and bench a few guys," he said.

The Avalanche's Matt Duchene was a bit of a surprise when he lasted all of last season as a rookie in Colorado, but with team-highs of 18 goals and 43 points, the third pick of the 2009 Entry Draft will be making his first All-Star Game, but it likely won't be his last.

"I'm absolutely thrilled and honored," said Duchene. "It's something you dream about to hopefully play in the NHL All-Star Game one day. To be able to do that is a great honor and I'm very excited."

Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel may be the target of the opposing team's best defenders any time he takes the ice, but all he's done is score 18 goals in his first 41 games, putting him on pace to tie his career best of 36.

Richards will be among the first to credit teammate Loui Eriksson for his rise up the scoring charts, and now the rest of the League has taken note. With 46 points in 43 games, he's on pace to raise his points total for a fourth-straight season.

David Backes signed his first long-term extension earlier this season to stay in St. Louis, and now he'll get to celebrate another special first.

"It hasn't sunk in that I've been chosen," he told the team's website. "It's a dream come true, obviously."

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal will turn All-Star Weekend into a family affair as he joins brother Eric for his first All-Star Game.

Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson is one point shy from matching last season's scoring total, and still has about 40 games to pile up the points.

"I didn't see it coming at all," Karlsson told the team's website. "I made other plans (for that weekend) some time back, but they don't matter much right now. It's a great feeling. It's something I never thought I would be a part of, especially this early in my career. I'm obviously very, very happy."

Capitals defenseman Mike Green has been considered one of the League's top-scoring defensemen over the last few seasons -- he's led all NHL blueliners two straight seasons -- and now he'll bring those talents to his first-ever All-Star Game.

"I'm definitely excited," said Green, "and honored at the same time. I'm just very humbled to be picked for this game. It'll be good experience for me."

The Wild's Brent Burns had a nice vacation to Mexico with his wife planned, but rather than sunning on the beach, they'll get to experience the Raleigh area's famed barbecue restaurants.

"He obviously has high-end talent and a very good work ethic," Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "He's one of the more dynamic defensemen in the game."

The Ducks' Jonas Hiller is carrying a 154:50 shutout streak into Tuesday's announcement. It's not likely he'll play shutout hockey in his first All-Star Game, but with the League's third-best save percentage (.929) while facing the most shots (1,245), it is a possibility.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com

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