For the first time in three years, the NHL’s brightest stars and biggest names gathered in a single room on Friday.
Assembled for the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend in Columbus, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux and nearly three dozen additional players addressed the media at Nationwide Arena. Joining the sea of players and reporters were the Nashville Predators All-Star player representatives, Captain Shea Weber and rookie Filip Forsberg.
“It’s awesome being here, it’s always such a special event,” Weber said. “I’m really looking forward to the experience again, and it’s great to have Forsberg here too.”
Taking in the scene for the first time in his career, Forsberg spoke about his recent promotion announced the day prior. The Preds forward traveled to the event as a rookie representative, but was also named a participant in the All-Star Game on Thursday after the Penguins Evgeni Malkin backed out with an injury.
“It was exciting. I was just sitting at home watching TV and [Predators General Manager] David Poile called me and asked if I wanted to play,” said Forsberg. “I said for sure.”
“He’s really having a great year,” Coyotes blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson said of Forsberg. “It helps when you’re team is doing well too. I’m really happy for him, and I actually knew him before he started playing in [Nashville]. I met him a few years ago back in his hometown, so I’ve been following him some and I’m really excited for him.”
The Predators coaching staff, comprised of Head Coach Peter Laviolette, assistants Kevin McCarthy, Phil Housley and Goaltending Coach Ben Vanderklok also attended media day as they prepare to coach Team Toews during the All-Star Weekend. Holding the highest winning percentage after 41 games earned Nashville’s coaches a ticket to the festivities in Columbus.
Hardest Shot Favorite:
At the 2012 All-Star festivities, Weber’s renowned slap shot was on display as the defensemen set a new record for the fastest slapper ever recorded by hitting an even 106 mph. The celebration didn’t last long for the Preds Captain, however, when a few moments later the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara set a new mark and another record with a clapper reaching 108.8 mph.
2012’s drama was just another chapter in the defenseman’s quest for hardest slap shot supremacy - the pair had a similar battle in 2011 - but unfortunately this year’s Skills Competition promises no additional chapter in the saga. Chara was not selected to the 2015 midseason classic.
Without his fiercest competitor, does that mean Weber is a shoo-in for his first slap shot crown?
“I think Weber has one of the scarier shots to stand in front of, and I’d think he’s definitely going to be a frontrunner and one of the guys to watch out for,” Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook said.
“It’s pretty impressive how guys like him can shoot it,” Flyers Captain Claude Giroux said of Weber. “Every year it seems like there’s been a new record. You don’t expect the shot to be that hard, but then it is. For me, I try to stay away from that competition and I just enjoy it.”
While Seabrook and Giroux were complimentary of Weber’s booming shot, they stayed away from predicting an outright winner. Not so for Ekman-Larsson.
“I think Weber’s going to win that this year,” Ekman-Larsson said. “He’s got a really hard shot and he’s such a good player overall.”
Normally it would be expected to call a rookie playing in an All-Star Game a surprise. But with how consistent and successful Forsberg has been this season, several of his NHL brethren said the Preds forward was very deserving of the recognition.
“He doesn’t play like this is his first year in the League and I think that’s a huge thing for a rookie coming in,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “He’s a strong guy and he’s a pretty big body, which he uses to his advantage. He’s a smart player and he’s had a lot of success this year and I think it goes along with how he plays.”
“I’m really happy for him, and I know he’s going to be a great player in this League for a long time,” fellow Swede Ekman-Larsson said of Forsberg. “I remember my first year, you don’t really have any expectations on you and life is good. It’s fun and you’re doing what you’ve dreamed of since you were a kid.”
Leading the Predators and all NHL rookies in scoring so far this season, Forsberg said he couldn’t have predicted this kind of campaign before it happened, but it was what he was hoping for.
“It’s hard to project what’s going to happen, but last summer I was really determined to come back from last year’s up-and-down season and just try to play good hockey again,” Forsberg said. “I always knew I had it in me, but I prepared and it’s worked well and now I’m at the All-Star [Weekend].”
Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux on the impact of former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette on the Predators:
“They’re a really good team, and it starts with their goalie and Weber is obviously a Top 5 [defensemen] in the League. And I think Lavy being a good coach has only helped that. He gave me a lot of opportunities when I came [into the League in Philadelphia] and it doesn’t surprise me that they’re up there in the standings.”
Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter on Weber in the Hardest Shot Competition:
“It’s unfortunate for Webs that Chara was competing in it the last few years because otherwise he would have had it. The way Webs is going, it’ll probably be a harder [shot] this year than it ever has been.”
Filip Forsberg on getting to know more of the NHL’s top players:
“I don’t know that many guys here. I know Weber and I’ve met Oliver Ekman-Larsson a couple times. But other than that, it’s familiar faces from on the ice, but I don’t really know them off the ice. It’ll be awesome to get to know them better this weekend.”
Shea Weber on preparing for the Hardest Shot Competition:
“It’s a little different because you get the short warmup, but then you’re just sitting around until it’s your turn to go. I usually try to stretch and stuff cause you don’t want to throw your back out...At the same time it’s not like [shooting pucks] is something I don’t do a lot of.”
Shot of the Day: