LOS ANGELES - The NHL All-Star Weekend doesn't get old for Johnny Gaudreau.
The winger has been to the past two NHL All-Star Weekends, in Columbus in 2015 and Nashville in 2016, but the event remains just as a exciting as it was during his rookie season.
"I love coming out here," he said on Saturday morning. "It's pretty special to be here. It's not every day that you get to say that you're part of an NHL All-Star Weekend ... it gets better and better every time. You get to surround yourself with the game's top players. It's a great feeling.
"I have a ton of family here, a couple of friends and it's great to spend time with them. You don't get to see them much during the season. It's definitely a rewarding weekend."
This weekend's events have an added element to them, with the NHL Greatest 100 Players Of All Time list being unveiled on Friday night. Plenty of the players on the list are in LA for the event and Gaudreau is hoping to run into a specific pair at some point over the next couple of days.
"Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. I never had the chance to meet those two. They're two of the guys who brought this game up. Those are two guys that I would be pretty starstruck around, if I meet them."
While he enjoys the entire weekend, Gaudreau is most looking forward to Sunday's games. The NHL is keeping the three-on-three game format intact, which is right in the winger's wheelhouse.
"I personally love it," he stated. "I love three-on-three. I love the open space, the creativity ... making plays. It's a lot of fun. I think it gets a little bit competitive too. I liked it last year, I thought it was a great format."
Gaudreau will have the opportunity to skate alongside Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid, who is the Pacific Division captain, on Sunday. After going head-to-head with the Oilers' captain over the past two years, Gaudreau is looking forward to having him on his bench.
"He's such a skilled player. He'll be a fun player to play with. He's good in these three-on-three games so we're lucky to have him on our team."
Gaudreau's excitement for Sunday's games is rivalled by that of his Pacific Division teammate Brent Burns. The San Jose Sharks' defenceman is also eagerly awaiting Sunday's games, in part because of the chance to skate alongside Gaudreau.
"He's just such a fun guy to be around," Burns said. "He's an incredible hockey player. He's just so good. It's crazy to watch the highlights every night and see what he does with the puck ... how good he is in tight, laterally moving.
"I always get excited to play three-on-three with a guy like that. He's just so good. It's crazy to see how good he play in those tight spaces."
The elation over this weekend's events are shared by Gaudreau and Burns' Eastern Conference foes.
For Columbus Blue Jackets' forward Cam Atkinson, this weekend has special meaning. Added to the Metropolitan Division roster after Evgeni Malkin was forced to withdraw due to injury, this is his first All-Star experience.
"It's a personal accolade. Your main goal is to win a Stanley Cup but any time you can get rewarded and get the opportunity to be here, I think it's very special.
"It's obviously the best players in the world so to be a part of that is pretty cool."
Atkinson, whose 24 goals rank second in the NHL, will go head-to-head with his fellow Boston College alumnus, Gaudreau, on Sunday and he thinks his division has the edge
"We've got some pretty good players in our division. Just give this guy the puck," he said, pointing to Sidney Crosby's media stall. "Hopefully Bobrovsky makes some good saves, Holtby too ... pretty much give Crosby and Ovechkin the puck, let them do all the damage."
The All-Star Weekend is old hat for Crosby, who will captain the Metropolitan Division, but it still resonates with the Pittsburgh Penguins star. He was also a part of the Greatest 100 Players Of All Time gala on Friday, making the weekend even more special for him and his family.
"To experience what I did last night and be a part of that ... I feel pretty fortunate to have been part of that ceremony last night, to be here with the group of players that are here this weekend. If anything, I think you realize as you get older, it goes by pretty quick and your try to enjoy all of these things as best you can."