The 2016 NHL All-Star Game is coming up at the end of this month in Nashville. The format is once again being altered to a 3 on 3 game and the teams being broken out by the four divisions. The four All-Star captains have been chosen by the fans which included leading vote getter John Scott. The game itself has become a joke, but I still enjoy seeing which players are selected to attend.
On Wednesday the NHL is going to announce the remaining 40 players who’ll be a part of the festivities in the Music City. This season, the Sabres have 3 players who I believe have a case to be selected to the All-Star game.
The first and perhaps most obvious choice is center Ryan O’Reilly. Since coming over from Colorado, O’Reilly has been everything the Sabres have hoped for and more. He’s elevated his game to another level and has become the legitimate number one center the Sabres have been searching for.
O’Reilly plays a two-way game and plays in all situations, including power plays and penalty kills. From a production stand point he’s 21st in the NHL in goals with 15 and 4th in the Atlantic division. The 24-year-old is 26th in the league in total points and again 4th in the Atlantic division with 33. The Canadian born center is a complete player and is arguably the Sabres most deserving representative in Nashville.
Eichel hit a slump during December, but has found his stride again over the last few weeks. The argument for Eichel is for the NHL to select him to showcase his talent on a national stage. The 19-year-old has the potential to be one of the future faces of the NHL and USA hockey. Eichel and currently injured forward Connor McDavid were billed as the next player rivalry similar to Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. McDavid being in Edmonton complicates that a little for the NHL, but the two will certainly be tied for the duration of their careers. Back to my point on McDavid, the NHL won’t have one of the top stars from the summer’s highly built up draft, so you have to wonder if the league will want to showcase Eichel.
The former Boston University center has had an exciting rookie season so far with 13 goals which is currently 2nd among rookies and 24 total points which is 4th among all rookies. Eichel has had his fair share of highlight reel moments this season and it’s not difficult to see how dynamic a player he’s going to be as he gets more comfortable in the league.
The final player who deserves a look at the All-Star game is defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. The 2013 8th overall pick is establishing himself as a true number one defenseman this season. To go along with his solid defensive zone play, Ristolainen has started to produce on the offensive end as well. The 21-year-old has 7 goals on the season which is 11th among all blue liners and 3rd in the Atlantic Division. He also has recorded 26 points which again is 11th overall among defenders and 3rd in the Atlantic division. His 11 power play points have him tied for 12th in the NHL for defenseman.
Ristolainen is 13th among defenders in ice time average with 24:43 per game and has also received only one penalty in 39 games. He’s an excellent skater and is blossoming into one of the top young NHL defenders. He plays against the opponent’s top line on a nightly basis and is able to play in all situations. The Finnish native is absolutely deserving of an All-Star selection this season.
It’s very unlikely that the Sabres will receive two All-Star representatives, unless the NHL really wants Eichel to be a part of the event and Ristolainen joins him. Other than that I can’t see two position players from the same team being selected. If I had to choose one of the three mentioned players I believe O’Reilly is the most deserving, followed by Ristolainen and then Eichel. We’ll find out what the NHL thinks on Wednesday.