Each Friday throughout the regular season Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four in his Weekes on the Web blog. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, trends or really four of whatever in the NHL that have caught his eye.
COLUMBUS -- This is the All-Star version of the Friday Four, starting with the negative (injuries) and moving into the positive (Mark Giordano, Tyler Johnson, Brian Elliott, Filip Forsberg and Vladimir Tarasenko).
Here we go:
1. Injuries can't be ignored
I don't want to be Debbie Downer here, but you have to acknowledge the injuries to the players selected for the All-Star Game.
Look at the goalies in particular. Sergei Bobrovsky, Pekka Rinne and Jimmy Howard; all deserve to be here, none can play. That's 50 percent of the goalies selected and obviously three of the best goalies in the League all hurt within the last few weeks.
We know what Rinne has been able to overcome, the hip surgery and infection, and to come all the way back and not miss a beat, to get Nashville to the top of the League, to have all of the Predators wins before he got hurt, it's just so impressive.
It stinks he can't be showcased here.
Howard made it a goal of his to get back to playing at the level he could play at. He made it a goal to be an All-Star again, and he did just that. It's an unreal feat to do that at the NHL level. To say you want to be an All-Star and then to become an All-Star is not an easy thing to do.
Think of the work he has done to stabilize that team. The Red Wings have good young players plus Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, but they need their goalie to be great and he has looked excellent this year.
And, of course, Bobrovsky, the host goalie, who has already been out this season. It's tough that he's out again. He's been on fire since coming back, has just been great for the Blue Jackets. How great would it have been for him and the Blue Jackets for him to be playing here in Columbus?
He's deserving, and it's just so disappointing that he can't do it
Then if you look at Evgeni Malkin, who is right there in the Hart Trophy conversation, certainly top two or top three, how frustrating this must be for him. He's been so good, so dominant, and now he's hurt. Teammate Sidney Crosby and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson will also miss the game with injuries.
I'm not saying this to cast a shadow over who is here, but it would have been nice to see all these guys who have been so great all season be able to participate in the All-Star Game. More importantly, how quickly can they get back to help their teams? The implications are huge.
2. Undrafted stars
I want to focus on two undrafted guys who made themselves all stars in Tyler Johnson and Mark Giordano. Undrafted to the All-Star Game = impressive.
At this point Giordano is my Norris Trophy guy. Everything he gives you from a defensive standpoint, from shot blocking and being tough, physical, to the offense he has provided this year by taking his game to a different level, to the leadership he brings to the table, is very important and very underrated.
Giordano is an underrated player having an excellent season. Good on him for making it to the All-Star Game.
You have to give Tampa Bay Lightning scout Al Murray a lot of credit for unearthing Johnson out of Spokane in the Western Hockey League.
Johnson is very skilled, very talented, and has a lot of Martin St. Louis in him. Yes, in his size, but also the way he skates, his speed, the way he attacks. Don't think that St. Louis didn't have an impact on Johnson when he was with him. You can see it in the way he plays.
From Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators to Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues to Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames, underrated players around the League have been the story as we reach the All-Star break. (Photo: John Russell/NHLI, Andre Ringuette/NHLI, Getty Images)
I really don't think people realize how mentally tough Brian Elliott has become. Think about it: He has lasted through Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Miller, and now Martin Brodeur in St. Louis. You think that's easy? Think again.
Elliott has always been that 'oh yeah" guy? Someone will say he's playing well, and the response will be, "Oh yeah, what if his game his game falls off?" Someone will say he's a legit No. 1 goalie, and the response will be, "Oh yeah, what if we find someone better?"
He helped the Blues win the Jennings Trophy, and it was like, "Oh yeah, what else has he done?" The Blues had Elliott when Halak was moved, but it was, "Oh yeah, we still have Jake Allen." Elliott got hurt and they brought in Brodeur. Elliott was returning, "Oh yeah, what do we do now?"
You see my point here. He is constantly questioned. He's like the guy who got his diploma but has to show it everywhere as proof that he got it. He's the guy that already passed the final exam but is asked to take it again to be sure.
Elliott's name has never been in lights. He's scratched and clawed and continued to prove that he belongs. All he has ever done is deliver consistently good performances because he has good character, his work habits are excellent, he's a student of the game and he's cleaned up a lot of areas of his game.
Now he's an All-Star, again by the way. Give him credit. Don't question him.
4. Don't look now …
The last thing I'd like to touch on in this blog is how short the transition gap is becoming to be a star player in the League. There are no better examples of that than Filip Forsberg, Vladimir Tarasenko and Tyler Johnson.
They are super-talented players, but all of a sudden they're jumping, they're electric, literally galloping out there, leading the rush, dominating.
When Nashville was outshooting Montreal the other night, so many of those chances were being led by Forsberg. It's crazy.
The same thing for Tarasenko. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock may not say this publicly, but I think Tarasenko's skill has allowed Hitch to let St. Louis attack more. Tarasenko is that dynamic.
Watch the Blues now, they're attacking. It's not about chip it in, puck recovery, work the wall; they're attacking. Look at how the Blues are entering the zone. It's very different from the way they were generating offense a few years ago. They have a number of guys now that can do it, but nobody more than Tarasenko.
From Tarasenko to Forsberg to Johnson, it's just unreal how quickly these guys become stars in the League. Let's also not forget about Tomas Tatar in Detroit.
These aren't players who came into the League with the pedigree of a Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares. Those players were supposed to be stars quickly. The rest of these guys have proven it can happen just as quick for them. The gap is so small now.