It is never too early to debate who will earn a trip to All-Star Weekend, so NHL.com and NHL Network assembled a panel of five writers and analysts to project which 42 players are most deserving of a spot in Columbus. The panel includes E.J. Hradek and Kevin Weekes of NHL Network and Arpon Basu, Corey Masisak and Dan Rosen of NHL.com.
The exercise was pretty simple. All five guys chose the 42 players (12 forwards, six defensemen and three goalies in each conference) they felt most deserved to be named to the All-Star Game.
Players who were named on the most lists were part of the team, and because each player was voted in order of priority, a simple tiebreaker was used to determine the final spots if too many players were named to the same number of ballots.
We will convene the five panelists again in a month to do another projection as the All-Star Game draws closer.
Seven forwards, three defensemen and no goalies were named on all five lists in the Eastern Conference. Six forwards, two defensemen and two goalies were unanimous choices in the Western Conference.
Calgary Flames defensemen Mark Giordano and Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick earned the distinction of being the No. 1 player at their position in the West on each of the five ballots. Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby had the most points among the forwards, falling one short of being the unanimous No. 1 at his position in the East.
Here are the 21 projected All-Stars in both conferences:
*Player stats are through games played Wednesday Nov. 19
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Crosby was tied for the League lead in points after the games Tuesday with 26, including eight goals. He has 186 points in 133 games since the start of the 2012-13 season, which is 31 more than anyone else in the NHL.
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning -- Stamkos is tied for third in the League with 12 goals and tied for fourth with 22 points. He is third, behind Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, among the NHL's top 100 scorers since the start of the 2012-13 season in points per game at 1.13.
Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers -- Tied with Crosby for the lead in the scoring race with 26 points, Voracek has been one of the League's underrated producers since joining Philadelphia. He's 13th in points during the past three seasons, ahead of Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares and Jamie Benn.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers -- Part of the reason Voracek might be underrated is that he plays next to Giroux, who is second to Crosby in points since 2012-13 with 155. This season he is tied for seventh with 21, but he could rise pretty quickly when more of his shots start going in. Giroux, not known as a shoot-first player, is second to Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin in shots on goal with 75, but he's shooting a career-low 6.7 percent.
Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets -- Johansen missed training camp because of a contract dispute, but he has been fantastic for the injury-depleted Blue Jackets. He has six goals and 20 points in 18 games, and now has 39 goals and 83 points in 100 games dating back to the start of the 2013-14 season. He might earn a loud cheer or two at Nationwide Arena.
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Malkin has seven goals and 20 points in 17 games, and has been a beneficiary of Pittsburgh's top-ranked power play by scoring five goals and 12 points with the man advantage. The Penguins don't need him to dominate every night, but they are a scary team when he and Crosby are rolling at the same time.
John Tavares, New York Islanders -- The Islanders have the second-best record in the Metropolitan Division, but unlike two years ago when they made the Stanley Cup Playoffs they haven't needed Tavares to carry them offensively. He, linemate Kyle Okposo and Brock Nelson each has 18 points to lead a balanced attack. Tavares has seven goals, and he's one of six guys on the team with at least four.
Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs -- The Maple Leafs have had a roller coaster-type season, but Kessel has 11 goals and 22 points, placing him in the top six in both categories. Kessel is third in the NHL in goals (68) and points (154) since the start of the 2012-13 season.
Rick Nash, New York Rangers -- If New York can rebound from a slow start, Nash could find himself on the short list of Hart Trophy candidates. After a 2014 postseason when nothing would go in for him despite producing large quantities of shots, Nash is second in the League with 13 goals.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals -- Ovechkin has eight goals and 16 points in 18 games, but he is still firing shots at the net at a League-high rate. He has 81 shots on goal, but is shooting 9.9 percent, which would be the second-lowest conversion rate of his career.
Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings -- Healthy after missing nearly half of last season, Zetterberg has four goals and 17 points in 18 games; not coincidentally, the Red Wings have started much better than the two previous seasons when they needed late rallies to secure a playoff spot. Zetterberg is one of 11 players among the League's top 100 scorers since the start of the 2012-13 season to average more than a point per game (113 points in 109 games).
Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Hornqvist certainly has enjoyed a change of scenery. Traded from the Nashville Predators to Pittsburgh in the offseason, he has split time between playing with Crosby and Malkin and has nine goals and 20 points in 17 games. Hornqvist has also been a staple in front of the net on the high-powered power play.
Others receiving votes: Tyler Johnson, Lightning; Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens; Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings; Nick Foligno, Blue Jackets; Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey Devils.
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens -- Subban is third among defensemen in the East in average time on ice at 25:00 per game. He has five goals and 12 points in 20 games. He leads all NHL defensemen with 103 points since the start of the 2012-13 season.
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators -- Karlsson is not far behind Subban on that list, second with 100 points despite playing 28 fewer games. He has four goals and 12 points in 2014-15, and leads all defensemen with 72 shots on goal. That's nearly double Subban's total (37).
Anton Stralman, Tampa Bay Lightning -- Stralman's offensive numbers did not match up with his elite possession stats while playing for the New York Rangers. They look more in line now. Stralman has two goals and 10 points in 20 games. He's playing 22:43 per game, in part to help ease the loss of Victor Hedman for much of the season.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Not only did Letang recover from the scare of having a stroke last season, he is back among the League's top-scoring defensemen. Letang has three goals and 13 points, which is seventh in the NHL among defensemen and tops in the East.
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings -- Zetterberg isn't the only Swede from Detroit having a strong start to the season. Kronwall has three goals and 12 points in 18 games. It might be surprising to some people, but Kronwall is sixth among defensemen in points in the past three seasons with 90 in 145 games.
Johnny Boychuk, New York Islanders -- Along with Nick Leddy, Boychuk was a great acquisition a week before the regular season started. Boychuk has two goals and 12 points in 17 games, and he's sixth among East defensemen with a Corsi for percentage at even strength of 56.36 percent.
Other receiving votes: Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers; Mike Green, Capitals; Andy Greene, Devils; Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Fleury hasn't had a full-season save percentage of better than .918, but he's been fantastic at the start of the 2014-15 season. His .930 save percentage is tied for third among goaltenders with at least 10 starts, and he leads the NHL with four shutouts in 14 starts.
Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning -- Bishop was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, and while his numbers have dipped a little the 11-2-2 record and a .919 save percentage are still above-average work. Among goalies with at least 50 games played since the start of last season, Bishop is tied for fourth with a .923 save percentage and second to Fleury with 48 wins.
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens -- Price is third on that save percentage list since the start of 2013-14 at .924. He's at .914 at this point this season, but he's fourth in the League in saves (435) and tied for second in wins (11).
Others receiving votes: Roberto Luongo, Panthers; Craig Anderson, Senators; Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars -- The Stars have been a disappointment. They were expected to compete with the superpowers in the West; instead, they've dropped to the bottom of the Central Division. Seguin leads the League in goals with 14 and he's third in points with 24. The Stars are still on the positive side of the possession ledger with him on the ice at even strength, but not quite at the dominant level of 2013-14.
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues -- The breakout star of the 2014-15 season to date, Tarasenko has 10 goals and 21 points for the Blues, who are a point back in the Central despite missing three of the their top-six forwards for chunks of the season. He's added a few highlight-reel type goals to his dossier as a burgeoning dynamic force.
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators -- Forsberg has a nine-point lead in the rookie scoring race, and is an easy choice for the Calder Trophy to this point. He has nine goals and 22 points in the Predators' 18 games. Alexander Radulov holds Nashville's record for points in a rookie season with 37. It is safe to say that is in danger.
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks -- Getzlaf has five goals and 17 points in 19 games for the West-leading Anaheim Ducks. He's fourth in the League (but first in the conference) in points since the start of the 2012-13 season with 153, which is 12 more than any other player in the West.
Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks -- Perry missed five games because of the mumps and hasn't scored in the two he's played since, but he still has 11 goals and that is tied for fourth in the NHL. Ovechkin leads the League with 91 goals during the past two-plus seasons; Perry is second with 69.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks -- The Blackhawks are not scoring like they have in recent seasons, but Toews leads them with seven goals and 16 points in 18 games. Toews and his two most frequent linemates, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, are all above 59 percent in Corsi for percentage.
Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings -- Toffoli had a monster start to the season, and while he's slowed down a little, he still has eight goals and 18 points to lead the Kings in both categories. That is despite collecting two goals and four points in the past eight games. He has four shorthanded goals, which is more than any of the other 29 teams.
Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks are in second place in the Pacific Division and ahead of two California teams in part because the Sedin twins are producing more like their pre-2013-14 selves again. Henrik Sedin has five goals and 19 points in 19 games, and the Canucks are controlling more than 56 percent of the shot attempts at even strength with him on the ice.
Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings -- The center of the line, along with Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, that carried the offense for Los Angeles during the early part of this season, Carter has seven goals and 17 points in 19 games. Dating back to when the Kings moved him to center after the Olympic break in February, Carter has 24 goals and 55 points in 68 games, including the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks -- It has not been a great start to the season for the Sharks, but Pavelski has eight goals and 17 points in 21 games. His 65 goals are tied with Chris Kunitz for sixth-most in the past two-plus seasons.
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks -- It was a different offseason for Thornton, but he just keeps producing. He has seven goals and a team-leading 19 points in 21 games. Possession numbers for the Sharks are down at the team level, but they still control 56 percent of the shot attempts at even strength with "Jumbo" on the ice.
Jori Lehtera, St. Louis Blues -- The big offseason addition at center for the Blues was Paul Stastny, but he has missed time because of an injury. Signing Lehtera has been one of the best bargains of the summer; he's teamed with Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz to form one of the most productive lines in the NHL. Lehtera has seven goals and 17 points, which would be second among rookies if he were young enough to be considered one.
Others receiving votes: Daniel Sedin, Canucks; Jaden Schwartz, Blues; Patrick Kane, Blackhawks; Zach Parise, Wild; Jamie Benn, Stars; Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers.
Mark Giordano, Flames -- Giordano was a breakout performer on a bad Calgary team last season. He's a Norris Trophy contender on maybe the most surprising team of 2014-15 to date. He leads all NHL defensemen with 21 points.
T.J. Brodie, Calgary Flames -- Brodie has been a darling of the advanced statistics community, but he's gone mainstream now. He's tied for third among defenseman with 16 points, and he has teamed with Giordano to help drive Calgary's offense. It is becoming harder to make the argument that Giordano deserves the credit for Brodie's success, and even if Calgary fades because its process for success to this point in almost certainly unsustainable, the Flames have one of the best defense pairings in the NHL to build around.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators -- Weber has five goals and 11 points in 18 games, and he's logging more than 27 minutes per game for Nashville, which is atop the Central Division. He has 37 goals since the start of the 2012-13 season, seven more than any other player at the position.
Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild -- One defensive pairing and maybe a reunion of sorts in Columbus, Suter has one goal and nine points, but he leads the League in ice time at 29:13 per game. More importantly, the Wild are controlling play when he's on the ice (his even strength Corsi for percentage is at 59.13 percent), which has not been the case the past two years.
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks -- One offseason decision that has definitely worked out for the Sharks is switching Burns back to his old position after lampooning as a forward. He has seven goals and 18 points, and while San Jose could probably use another top-nine forward to replace him, that's easier to find than a top-four defenseman with Burns' offensive skills.
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks -- The two-time Norris Trophy winner probably needs the Blackhawks to start scoring more goals to be back in the discussion for that award, but Chicago still dominates when he is on the ice. His Corsi for percentage at even strength is 59.6 percent, and Keith has four goals and 11 points in 18 games as well.
Others receiving votes: Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues; Drew Doughty, Kings; Sami Vatanen, Ducks.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings -- Quick was not stupendous in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as he was in 2012, but the two-time champion has had a phenomenal start to the 2014-15 season. The Kings have not dominated play as they typically do, but Quick has saved them. He has a .938 save percentage and leads the NHL with 501 saves, seven more than second-place Cory Schneider (New Jersey) despite appearing in three fewer games.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators -- Nashville has injected dynamism and depth into the offense this season, but having a healthy Rinne has also been a huge reason for the Predators' early-season surge. He's 12-3-1 with a .930 save percentage, planting himself firmly in the Vezina Trophy conversation to this point.
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks and Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues -- Quick and Rinne were 1-2 on each of the five ballots, but there was a tie for the third spot because Crawford and Elliott ended up on two each. Each has a sub-1.90 goals against averages and a save percentage of nearly .930.
Others receiving votes: Jonas Hiller, Flames.
NHL.com Staff Writer