The NHL’s first All-Star Weekend in three years will featuring a trio of Nashville Predators players. On Saturday, the League announced that Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Filip Forsberg have been selected as All-Stars. Rinne and Weber will appear in the All-Star Game on Jan. 25, while Forsberg will join his teammates for the All-Star Skills Competition on Jan. 24.
The goaltender, defenseman and forward will join the Predators coaches for the All-Star festivities in Columbus after Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette and his staff were named to the All-Star crew on Friday. Nashville’s coaches earned their spot at the All-Star Weekend by virtue of the Preds’ top winning percentage and will oversee one of the All-Star squads.
Nashville had three players attend an All-Star Weekend one other time when Shea Weber and Ryan Suter were chosen as All-Stars and Craig Smith as a YoungStar in 2012.
Currently alone in first place in the NHL (28-9-4, 60 points), the Predators best 41-game start to a season has been a direct result of the strong campaigns by Weber, Forsberg and Rinne and the three will be honored by the League as a result.
Saturday’s nomination is the goaltender’s first All-Star selection, although the Finn was also named to the YoungStars Game in Montreal in 2009. The Predators have had one other goalie chosen as an All-Star, when Tomas Vokoun was the franchise’s first masked man to visit the midseason classic in 2004 in Minnesota.
Rinne sits atop the NHL in a variety of categories, including the most important one: wins. The 6-foot-5 netminder has 28, the next closest challenger is six back with 22. Perhaps most impressive about Rinne’s play is that he’s performed at such a high level while just a season removed from a campaign that saw him sidelined with injury. The Preds goalie underwent surgeries before and during the season that kept him out of 51 games in 2013-14.
A native of Kempele, Finland, Rinne has returned to the ice with a fire this season and played the best hockey of his career, earning an All-Star nomination.
“We all knew how good he is, but it seems like he has taken it to a higher level this year,” Preds defenseman Roman Josi said. “You wouldn’t think it was possible, but he’s keeping us in every game. I can’t remember a time where we were out of a game…he’s been doing it consistently, and that’s really impressive.”
In his first year as Rinne’s coach, Preds bench boss Peter Laviolette has been thoroughly impressed with the goaltender’s effort at every practice and in every drill.
“One of the things that has impressed me most is his work ethic,” Laviolette said of Rinne. “In practice and in games, he never quits on anything.
“He never quits on the puck in practice. He never stops trying. He almost slows down the drills sometimes, because someone is ready to come in and take the shot, and he’s not done with the first one because he won’t quit on it. It’s such a valuable trait for an athlete, and most certainly for a goaltender, to always fight for the last inch out there, and that’s what he does.”
With his fourth-straight All-Star appearance, Weber becomes the first Nashville Predators player to receive the honor more than three times. Weber also holds the Preds record for most points (4) in an All-Star Game with the four assists he registered in Carolina in 2011.
The Nashville defensive corps has been so solid as a unit, that the Captain’s contributions have almost been glossed over at times despite being no less impressive than his usual top-flight production. Weber sits in the Top Five among defensemen in points, goals and time on ice (TOI), while also guiding the Predators to a No. 1 ranking in the NHL in goals against per game (2.20).
“Weber does so much for our team,” forward Olli Jokinen said. “If he scores it’s good, if he doesn’t score he’s still the best defensemen out there. He’s playing great, and he’s our leader."
At the midpoint, the 29-year-old blueliner has turned in another season worthy of Norris Trophy consideration and he’s also helped Nashville’s younger blueliners in their development, including Mattias Ekholm.
“He’s [helped me] a lot; obviously Shea is one of the better, if not the best defenseman in the League,” Ekholm said. “The way he carries himself on and off the ice, practice days, game days, you learn every day. He’s a true professional and if I can get close to where he’s at someday, I’m going to be very happy.”
The Predators leading scorer 41 games through the season is likely not the one many predicted to sit atop the stat sheet prior to the campaign. The former first round pick that the Preds traded for in 2013, Forsberg spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League with the Milwaukee Admirals.
Beginning with the Predators Rookie Tournament in September and continuing through training camp and the preseason, Forsberg quickly emerged as the team’s best forward in 2014. The 20-year-old leads Nashville and all NHL rookies with 38 points and 14 goals.
“From the start, Filip has been an impact player for us,” Laviolette said. “He does amazing things with the puck in small areas. He can get himself out of trouble in the defensive zone with a little drag and a little push, and all of a sudden he’s got 30 yards of clear ice in front of him. That’s talented, that’s special.”
The rookie’s play-making and quick, high-release wrist shot have taken the League by storm and the young winger hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.
“His shot seems to come off at different angles and he gets it off quick,” Laviolette said after Forsberg’s game-winning goal in Colorado in December. “He uses people as screens too, and it’s effective, that’s for sure.”
Skating on the Preds top line, Forsberg has already received recognition from the NHL, being named Rookie of the Month for November, and his selection as a 2015 YoungStar is also well deserved.
“I think he has earned what he has gotten at this point,” Laviolette said after Forsberg set a new Preds rookie scoring record on Jan. 6. “He plays hard. It’s nice to see him have success. As your team has success there will be milestones reached for everybody.”
2015 NHL All-Star Weekend Schedule:
Friday, Jan. 23: NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft (7 p.m. CT, NBCSN)
Saturday, Jan. 24: NHL All-Star Skills Competition (6 p.m. CT, NBCSN)
Sunday, Jan. 25: 2015 NHL All-Star Game (4 p.m. CT, NBCSN)