Melrose Minute: All-Star honorees at the quarter pole
With most teams in the National Hockey League at or nearing 20 games played this season, I've made my All-Star picks, as well as my coach and rookie of the year at the season's quarter pole. Here is who I think has been the best of the best at each position in the League this season.
Right wing: Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
His numbers (League-leading 16 goals, 29 points) speak for themselves. I think he's been the best player in the NHL so far this season. Toronto's off to a good start and obviously he's a gigantic part of what they've done, so Kessel is my first forward for my All-Star team.
Center: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
I think this guy is just emerging into a superstar. He's just a great two-way center. He can score points, he can also kill penalties, he's good defensively. He's just an excellent hockey player. He can do anything. People are seeing why the Philadelphia Flyers felt they were able to trade Mike Richards.
Left wing: Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago's off to a great start, he's off to a great start, and he's a high plus, which means he's playing five-on-five very well. He's putting the puck in the net and he's just playing like we envision Marian Hossa when he's healthy. He's been awesome. I've watched Chicago a number of times and he's dangerous, he's skating well, he's attacking the net well and, as I said, he's a plus-11 right now. That's excellent. He always gets points on the power play, but being that high of a plus means that five-on-five he's getting his points also.
Defenseman: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
Boston's won eight in a row, Chara's a plus-12, and he always plays against other teams' best players. I really take that as a consideration. You want a defenseman with good numbers, and Chara gets his points, but he's so much more than that. Being that high a plus and playing against every team's best three forwards every night is pretty impressive. I think Chara and the Boston Bruins have found their game. There's no better team in the NHL right now than Boston, and Chara is a big part of that.
Defenseman: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
I'm taking Shea Weber for the exact same reasons. He's plus-19, he and Chara both have 14 points, and he too plays against the other teams' best forwards every night. He's got the highest plus in the NHL and that's a pretty impressive number for a defenseman. We saw what he did last year in the playoffs and he just does everything. He's got the big shot, he's a great passer of the puck, he can play a very physical style if he needs to, and every night he sees everybody's best player. He never gets a shift off, where he's out there against the fourth line.
Goaltender: Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars
He's still 11-4, he's still leading the NHL in wins. Dallas as a team has struggled, but I think when you look at all the other goaltenders in the NHL, his numbers are still great. He's among the League leaders in everything and 11 wins -- that's the most important number for goaltenders.
Best rookie: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers
He had five points in his last game, he's got 19 points overall. Edmonton is surprising a lot of people right now and he's certainly been a big part of that. He's just a guy that sees the ice very well and sees his teammates very well. You just watch him and he does everything well. To have that many points is great for a rookie. He's under the microscope, too. No one expects it out of the other guys, but this guy has had a target on his back from day one and he's been great from day one. He hasn't had any slumps, and to do it with the pressure he's been under is just amazing.
Best coach: Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes
This team, what they're going through with ownership and Bryzgalov leaving in the summer, they're one of the best teams in the Western Conference. They just had a great streak where they went on the road and beat some very good teams, so the record speaks for itself. With all the other stuff that's happening it's easy for that team to get sidetracked and start talking about the wrong things. He's done a great job of keeping them focused on what's important, and that's winning. The only thing they can control is winning, and they've done a great job of that so far.