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Speed kills

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
If there’s one thing Mason Raymond knows, it’s speed.

Like a sleek Porsche 911 GT2 that can blaze from 0-100 kph in 3.7 seconds, Raymond is beyond fast. It’s his thing.

It’s possible to miss him without blinking; Superman isn’t the only person faster than the speed of light anymore.

When Raymond strides into top gear, it’s time to be on the lookout for a spectacular play, maybe something reminiscent of the Russian Rocket.

Canucks fans have known this for some time, while the NHL will witness it first hand this weekend.

Raymond is one of 10 second-year players who will strut their stuff for the Sophomore YoungStars Team during the 2009 All-Star Weekend festivities in Montreal.

“It’s still kind of overwhelming I guess, just to think that I’m going,” said Raymond.

“It’s an honour and it’s really going to be a neat experience. I’ve never been to that and I always watched this stuff on TV growing up, so I’m really looking forward to taking it in and absorbing it all.”

The 23-year-old Albertan is part of a who’s who squad of the league’s elite up and coming players, a team that includes Nicklas Backstrom, Milan Lucic, Bryan Little and Devin Setoguchi.

Ten of the NHL’s best rookies, namely Steven Stamkos, Kris Versteeg, Patrik Berglund and Mikkel Boedker, will face off against Raymond and company in the sixth YoungStars game, the first to feature a rookies vs. sophomores format.

“Those are all some great players coming up in the league. I know Setoguchi a little bit, but it’ll be nice to get to know a few more of those guys.”

After consulting General Managers throughout the league, the NHL’s Hockey Operations Department handpicked the players who will take part in the YoungStars game.

Backstrom and Setoguchi are both in the top 25 in NHL scoring, while Versteeg and Berglund are one-two in points for rookies, making them all natural selections.

Little has three game winning goals and is fourth in scoring for Atlanta; Lucic leads the Bruins in hits on top of having 26 points; Boedker is ushering in the youth movement for Phoenix and Stamkos is Stamkos, his star power alone landed him a spot.

Raymond’s presence in the YoungStars game, which takes place on Saturday, Jan. 24 as part of the SuperSkills competition at Montreal's Bell Centre, is also warranted.

He’s already collected 19 points (9-10-19) in 47 games to sit tied for eighth in Canucks scoring, he’s notched four power play goals and created oodles of highlight reel plays on delivering 118 shots on goal.

It’s still early, but Raymond’s game requires respect and he’ll be in La Belle Ville because of it.

“My ability to see the ice and to shoot the puck and be a bit of an offensive player, a few of those elements attributed to me getting elected.

“I think my speed is obviously one of the things that kills as well, speed kills,” joked Raymond.

Evidence of Raymond’s world-class speed and sharp offensive skills were everywhere to start the season, take his goal against the Anaheim Ducks in the final pre-season game for example.

Of late there hasn’t been so much as a flicker from him though, he’s been forced to apply the brakes quite a few times and has now gone 11 games without scoring and nine straight without any points.

Raymond was a healthy scratch when Vancouver hosted Columbus on Jan. 18, the victim of too many forwards and not enough spots for the Canucks.

It was more than that to Raymond who received the message loud and clear. He may be representing Vancouver during the all-star game celebrations this weekend, but he must work on representing himself better on the ice.

“I came out of the gates really well, I felt really comfortable to start because I was another year older and I had learned a little bit more. But it’s a constant battle, I’m going through some times right now where I’m not where I want to be and I’ve been at that point for a little while now.

“It’s a little frustrating but with being another year older, I’ve learned a little more and it’s just part of the ups and downs of the rollercoaster.”

Every sophomore Raymond will be teamed with this weekend is also on the same wild ride having experienced exactly what he has to this point. Hopefully he’ll be able to pick up some tips from them in regards to bumping his scoring slump, Backstrom and Setoguchi are sure to have some words of wisdom.

Should that fail, Plan B will go into effect – he will just keep speeding along until he plays himself back into a productive role on offence.

“Consistency is one thing and having more than just one good game here and there, “ said Raymond, on his plan for improving after the break.

“Ultimately capitalizing on my opportunities and creating more opportunities and putting more points on the board for this team is the main goal, that will take some stress off the twins line or some other lines.

“That’s what you’re looked on to do when you’re a top six guy and that’s something I’m working on doing in the second half here.”

Consistency can be learned, as can creating more offence, but speed is a natural talent that cannot be taught. As the NHL will observe this weekend, it’s Raymond’s biggest asset.

As soon as he pairs it with that consistency and further creativity, it’ll be the all-star weekend’s main event that Raymond is blazing through.

NHL YoungStars rosters
All-Star Game rosters

- Power play goals

19 - Points for Raymond this season (9-10-19)

21 - Career high point total, achieved last season

118 - Shots in 47 games, second on the team

Raymond's speed kills
All about the trailer
Raymond on Linden

+ Click for larger photo

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