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Panthers News All-Star Blog: YoungStars Settle In Under Microscope

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
By Staff

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With smiles on their faces, the YoungStars strolled into the Grand Salon at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth looking like a happy group of kids.

They sat at dais tables built just for them. Plates bearing their names hung on the walls behind them. Some of them had to share a dais, but it didn't matter. The kids were here and they were soaking up everything about NHL All-Star Weekend.

To my surprise, the media contingent was larger than I expected. I anticipated that many journalists would be flying in today or tonight and be here for tomorrow's availability with the NHL All-Stars. However, there was a good crowd on hand and the mood was very light, loose and fun.

That's exactly the way it was supposed to be.

For me, it was great to get to know Blake Wheeler a little bit as I sat with him for a 10-minute interview. Great talker, by the way. It was nice to see Steven Stamkos again as well. The kid has been through a lot this season but he is still as composed as I remember him from his first game back in Prague in early October.

James Neal, Bryan Little, Mason Raymond, Kris Versteeg and Dave Bolland all found their way into my notebook as well.

Neal was literally in awe of where he was, which was great to see and quite refreshing. Little said he was hoping to steal five minutes with Vinny Lecavalier to chat up the Tampa Bay captain. Raymond wants to spend some time chatting with Jarome Iginla. Versteeg is just hoping to play in the YoungStars game. A hand injury could keep him out. Bolland, a third-line grinder, looked like he belonged.

All in all it was a good afternoon with the YoungStars. The show continues tomorrow when the big boys show up.

Read the coverage and enjoy your evening. The dot com boys certainly plan to.

- Dan Rosen

King of the Trick-Shot?
Jan. 22, 7:10 PM

As defending champion, Alex Ovechkin might be the smart-money choice to win Saturday's much-anticipated Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav Breakaway Challenge, the centerpiece of the 2009 Honda/NHL All-Star SuperSkills at the Bell Centre. But, that's not the way all the NHL players are leaning.

Ovechkin won the inaugural Breakaway Challenge in Atlanta last year.

Clearly, Chicago's Patrick Kane, Montreal's Alex Kovalev and Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf all believe they can win the event; otherwise they would not have volunteered to take on Ovie. And, each of those players had some support from the YoungStars gathered at the Fairmount Queen Elizabeth Hotel for Thursday's media availability.

But, the figurative big money Thursday was flowing in the direction of Kovalev and Kane

Dallas' James Neal appears to have handicapped the field through the use of scouting videos on

"I don't know, but the videos on Kovalev, I think he has a huge bag of tricks," Neal said. "It will be exciting, but I think Kovalev. It's hard to pick just one, though, with the talent they have."

And, Neal can't wait to see how it all turns out Saturday night.

"I'm sure we'll be running out to the bench or watching it on TV in the room," Neal said. "We'll be watching. It'll be something fun to see. I'm really looking forward to it."

Vancouver's Mason Raymond also is leaning to Kovalev, giving him a slight nod over Kane.

"Those are all great candidates, but I'm going to go with Kovalev," Raymond said. "He's got some amazing hands and he's a great goal scorer. Kane, too; but I'll put my money on Kovalev."

Florida's Michael Frolik believes the Bell Centre crowd will play a big part in the outcome, which will be decided by text-message voting. So, he is going with the hometown boy, Kovalev.

"I think maybe Ovechkin will maybe do some good moves like he has done before, but I think it is going to be Kovalev," the Panther rookie said.

Marc Staal, a Canadian-born defenseman with the Eastern Conference-based New York Rangers,   went against the grain by picking a Western-Conference-based American who plays for an Original Six rival.

"I think Kane has the moves to win it," Staal said. "I can't wait to see what he does."

Another Eastern Conference player, Atlanta's Bryan Little, also is in Kane's corner.

"It could end up being whoever tries the craziest stuff," he says. "I'd definitely say Kane has a really good handle, so he'll pull it off."

So, there you have it -- some expert opinions from young men that know of which they speak. Still not sure who will win? Well, I guess you'll just have to join us for the show Saturday. I personally can't wait.

-- Shawn P. Roarke

Sid's out, St. Louis is in
Jan. 22, 4:00 PM

So, No. 87 won't be here after all. That's the bad news of the day.

Sidney Crosby is too banged up to play in the NHL All-Star Game on Sunday or compete in the Honda/NHL SuperSkills Competition on Saturday night, so word is he is not planning to come to Montreal this weekend and that's probably for the best.

I know I'm in the minority here because fans want to see Sid the Kid even if he's not playing due to injury. Heck, he collected 1,713,021 votes to be a starter for the Eastern Conference, the most in the history of fan voting.

However, I don't think it would be fair to the rest of the all-stars if Crosby showed up just to be here. The media would be focused on him, which would take the spotlight away from some very deserving superstars of our game.

If Crosby is not healthy enough to play in the All-Star Game -- he has been bothered by a left knee injury and finished last night's game with a beat up forearm -- he should take his time to rest and heal because the Penguins need him to be healthy for the stretch drive if they plan on trying to defend their Eastern Conference championship.

He'll be missed here, that's for sure, but the show goes on and there is plenty of star power. The addition of Tampa Bay forward Martin St. Louis only adds to it.

I'm of the opinion that St. Louis, who is from nearby Laval, should have been selected for this game right from the beginning. He's having the best season of any Tampa Bay player with 46 points, including 19 in the last 12 games.

Not to disparage Vinny Lecavalier in any way, but if the Lightning were originally only going to have one rep, and that's probably what they deserve considering their place in the standings in the first half, I thought it should have been St. Louis.

Now that he's here, the argument gets put to bed. Justice is served.

St. Louis is giving Pavel Datsyuk, another All-Star Game casualty, a run for the Lady Byng Trophy this season. He has those 46 points and only four penalty minutes. He also is a plus-11 with four power-play goals and two shorties.

So, we welcome St. Louis to the party and wish Crosby all the best in his few days off. Not having its biggest star at its biggest event is not what the NHL was hoping for, but life goes on and this weekend promises to be just as special without No. 87.

-- Dan Rosen

Great stories to tell
Jan. 22, 3:00 PM

While waiting for the YoungStars to show up here at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth for their media availability, I had to do some research on a few players I plan to speak to for stories.

Blake Wheeler and Steven Stamkos are my targets, so I scoured the internet looking up the current news on each player. I know enough to wing an interview with them, but by reading the hometown papers you get a better feel for what is going on with the player.

I'm hoping Wheeler and Stamkos are open and honest with me because they each have a pretty darn good story to tell.

Wheeler, as you probably already know, has turned into a sensation in Boston after he was the surprise of training camp. The general consensus was he would have to play in Providence of the American Hockey League this season as he acclimates himself to the pro game, but he has instead played in all 47 Bruins' games this season and has 30 points to show for it.

The former University of Minnesota center is now the Bruins' second line left wing, playing mostly with Michael Ryder and David Krejci. Wheeler and Krejci have also been formidable penalty killers in the absence of Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm.

The Bruins top line, when healthy, is unequivocally their best with Marc Savard centering Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic. However, since Kessel has been out with mono and Lucic with a shoulder injury -- that's why he's not going to be here today for the YoungStars media availability -- the second line has been providing some great offensive pop.

Wheeler is playing a big part on it, but there'll be more to come on him later in story form.

As for Stamkos, I am very curious to get his opinion on his recent stints in the press box as a healthy scratch. Some may just assume that since he's been a healthy scratch the No. 1 pick is falling flat on his face.

Totally not the case at all.

Instead, it appears that Rick Tocchet has figured out a plan for the 19-year-old center. Tocchet is making Stamkos a healthy scratch on an occasional basis so he gets more time to train and more time to watch the games. He has to go up to the press box, takes notes, and then go over them the following day with assistant coach Wes Walz in a "classroom setting."

I think it's brilliant, and it could turn into a technique a lot of teams use with young players, especially ones with as much promise as Stamkos.

-- Dan Rosen
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