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Hradek: Backes, Rinne deserve to be in Ottawa

Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 1:27 PM / NHL.Countdown

By EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

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Hradek: Backes, Rinne deserve to be in Ottawa
NHL Network's E.J. Hradek shines the spotlight on 10 players who could have earned invitations to the 2012 All-Star Game.
Deciding who to invite to the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game is kind of like making the guest list for a wedding. There are some people you just have to ask (if you want a representative from each team or a nice gift from your boss), and you always end up leaving someone out.

After fielding several tweets from irate fans concerning their own particular All-Star absences, I decided to compile a list of those players who weren't selected but are deserving of a spot in Ottawa. To my surprise, I came up with nearly 30 names. Yeah, there are a lot of good players working in this League.

For this edition of the Tuesday 10, I whittled down that group to a more manageable 10, listing them in alphabetical order. 

David Backes
Center - STL
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 37
SOG: 140 | +/-: 16
David Backes, C, Blues -- The St. Louis captain doesn't have gaudy numbers, but the straight-ahead, power forward is much more substance than style. He epitomizes the north-south game preached by new Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who raves about Backes' leadership style.

That's not to say his numbers aren't good, though.

The 27-year-old, who already has two 31-goal seasons on his resume, leads his club with 16 goals, 21 assists, 37 points and 140 shots on goal in 48 games. A strong two-way competitor, Backes also has a plus-16 rating and he's contributed four game-winning goals (tied for the team lead with defenseman Alex Pietrangelo).

An All-Star last season, he has played well enough -- leading one of the League's best teams -- to merit an encore appearance.

Patrice Bergeron, C, Bruins -- There aren't many more complete forwards playing in the NHL than Bergeron. The 26-year-old Quebec native is a terrific three-zone player who can beat you in many different ways.

In 46 games, he's second on the Bruins with 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists). The clever center has a plus-27 rating and he's dynamic in the face-off circle, winning 56.9 percent of his draws.

While admitting it would be an honor to be selected, Bergeron says he isn't losing sleep about sitting it out. "I don't put any emphasis on those types of achievements," he says. "It's all about the team. As long as I help and my teammates see that, it's all that matters to me."

That focus on team success probably is why he's among a small group of players who have won a Stanley Cup as well as Olympic, World Championship and World Junior Championship gold medals.

While individual honors clearly aren't his bag, Bergeron's stellar two-way play should garner him strong consideration in the Selke Trophy balloting.

Dan Boyle
Defense - SJS
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 24 | PTS: 28
SOG: 156 | +/-: 11
Dan Boyle, D, Sharks -- On the left coast, the 35-year-old Ottawa native continues to do his thing -- move the puck quickly and efficiently out of danger in the defensive zone to jump start the Sharks' attack.

And, while his offensive skills remain his calling card, Boyle's competitive nature has made him an under-appreciated defender.

Working nearly 26 minutes (on average) per night, Boyle is playing to a healthy plus-11 rating through 46 games, and he leads all San Jose defensemen with 28 points. The former Miami University standout leads all Sharks with 156 shots on goal.

A two-time All-Star, Boyle's play clearly has been good enough to earn him a trip back to his home town for the weekend festivities.

Loui Eriksson, LW, Stars -- By the time you read this, Eriksson might have been named to replace teammate Jamie Benn, who has been placed on injured reserve due to an appendectomy. Either way, the quiet, 26-year-old Swede has performed to the same high standards that earned him an All-Star berth last winter.

In 47 games this season, Eriksson leads the Stars with 43 points and a plus-11 rating. A complete two-way forward, he can play in all game situations, making him extremely valuable to coach Glen Gulutzan.

While Eriksson might not get the media attention that his game deserves, opposing players and coaches understand his value. If they were voting, he'd likely already have nailed down a spot in Ottawa.

Anze Kopitar
Center - LAK
GOALS: 15 | ASST: 29 | PTS: 44
SOG: 147 | +/-: 1
Anze Kopitar, C, Kings -- While Kopitar has not been as consistently good as some (me included) expect, he leads the Kings with 15 goals, 29 assists and 44 points in 50 games. And, he has done so without a strong offensive presence on his wing and working against the oppositions' top checkers on a nightly basis.

The 24-year-old Slovenian can overpower opponents with his combination of size (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) and skill. Those natural gifts likely are why so much is expected of him.

In my view, Kopitar's play did merit a third trip to the League's mid-season classic.

Scott Hartnell, LW, Flyers -- The burly forward finds himself in the midst of a career season. Working on a line with stud forwards Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr, Hartnell stands among the League leaders with 25 goals in 47 games.  He's currently second on the Flyers with 44 points and he leads the team with a plus-18 rating.

The 29-year-old native of Regina, Sask., who was selected by the Predators with the No. 6 pick in the 2000 Entry Draft, has shown the ability to adapt to different linemates during the past several seasons.  For example, during the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010, Hartnell worked extremely well with Danny Briere and ex-Flyer Ville Leino.

Hartnell, in fact, is going to the game. He was named as an injury replacement for Jonathan Toews on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after I made this list.

Matt Moulson
Left Wing - NYI
GOALS: 22 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 43
SOG: 131 | +/-: 10
Matt Moulson, LW, Islanders -- On the youthful Islanders, John Tavares rightfully gets the lion's share of the attention. There's no denying that.

Moulson, however, deserves some credit, too. After all, the late-blooming 28-year-old has put up back-to-back 30-goal seasons on Long Island, and seems headed past that mark again this season.

A ninth-round draft pick (No. 263) of the Penguins in 2003, Moulson spent the better part of three seasons with the Kings' minor-league affiliate before getting a chance with the Isles in 2009. He's certainly made the most of it.

In the first 47 games of this season, Moulson has put up a team-high 22 goals to go along with 43 points.  Also impressive, his plus-10 rating is far-and-away the best on the team. At some point, if he continues his consistent scoring ways, he'll eventually find his way into an All-Star Game.

James Neal, LW, Penguins -- Penguins fans have been vocal in their All-Star support for the goal-scoring forward. And, really, I have a difficult time explaining how the League's third-best goal scorer (tied with teammate Evgeni Malkin and Leafs sharpshooter Phil Kessel) got left off the original All-Star roster.

Like a few others on my list, I could see Neal being named to the club as an injury replacement for a fallen star.

Acquired from Dallas last Feb. 21, Neal struggled to score in his first months in Pittsburgh. This season, however, that hasn't been a problem. The Oshawa, Ont., native got out of the gate quickly and he's continued to build on his goal total, which now stands at 26 in 48 games. Neal leads the Pens with 12 power-play goals and 204 shots on goal.

If Neal doesn't become a last-minute All-Star replacement, it will make him no less valuable to the Penguins. Despite a foot injury, his production has been something the Pens have been able to count on.

Pekka Rinne
Goalie - NSH
RECORD: 27-11-4
GAA: 2.39 | SVP: 0.924
Pekka Rinne, G, Predators -- When you realize what a force the big goaltender has been in Music City, it's hard to figure how he didn't earn a trip to Ottawa.
 
In 44 games, he's 27-11-4 with a 2.39 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and four shutouts. That's some pretty darn good goalkeeping.

The 29-year-old Finnish-born stopper, who was selected in the eighth round of the 2004 draft, has developed into a franchise goalie for the Preds. He earned a Vezina Trophy nomination last spring and he inked a new, long-term contract Nov. 3, which, coincidentally, was his birthday, Not a bad gift, huh?

One of these winters, Rinne is going to get the All-Star recognition that he very much deserves. For now, he probably will enjoy kicking back for a day or two to catch his breath. Certainly, the Predators need a rested Rinne for their second-half playoff push.

Kris Versteeg, RW, Panthers -- After a difficult, injury-plagued season split between Toronto and Philadelphia, Versteeg seems to have found a home in South Florida. So much so, the 25-year-old Alberta native is fast approaching career-bests in goals, assists and points.

In 46 games, Versteeg has 19 goals (four game-winners), 23 assists and 42 points. He's never had more than 22 goals and 53 points in any season. Barring injury, he figures to surpass those numbers in the coming weeks.

Florida's first-half success has been fueled, in large part, by the contributions of linemates Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss. Statistically, the former Hawk hasn't been a defensive liability, either, posting a plus-10 rating.

While an All-Star berth would have been nice, Versteeg seems content focusing on getting the Panthers to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2000. Now that would be an All-Star accomplishment.
Quote of the Day

When we started our journey we made a commitment to our fans to be relevant and to see the Chicago Blackhawks become the best professional hockey organization. There are not two finer symbols of that than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The commitment we have made to these incredible young men is equal to the commitment they have made to our team, our fans, our entire organization and the city of Chicago.

— Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz on signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to contract extensions