With the All-Star Game festivities set to be underway in Columbus tonight, the current discussion appears to be revolving around the lack of “stars” this All-Star game has. Whether it was the exclusion of former staples like Henrik Lundqvist or Zdeno Chara, or the string of injuries that have hit players that were chosen to attend, this All-Star Game simply appears to have less “star power” than games in the past.
Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Often times, players have a particular talent or skill that may be at the All-Star level, but don’t have a well-rounded enough game or enough name recognition to be considered an “All-Star.” With that in mind, let’s take a look back at some former Carolina Hurricanes players that had the “All-Star” talent to compete in a particular skills competition, but never had the chance.
Hardest Shot Competition
Winner: Anton Babchuk
Babchuk had a tumultuous career in Carolina. Between his refusal to report to the AHL team and his trip over to the KHL, “Babs” certainly didn’t win over many fans during his time with the Hurricanes. However, late in the 08-09 season, much of his off-ice issues were forgotten, as Babchuk blasted goal after goal for the Canes, including the overtime goal that sealed a playoff spot in a game against Pittsburgh.
Though Babchuk never got a chance at an NHL All-Star Game, he did attend the AHL All-Star Game in 2004 as a 20-year-old. He won the Hardest Shot Competition that year with a 99.6 mph blast, making one wonder what he could have recorded in his prime.
2nd Place: Joe Corvo
Corvo has made multiple appearances for the Hurricanes over the last decade or so. First acquired from Ottawa in 2008, he was known for his questionable defensive tendencies and his booming shot. Corvo’s issue was never the power of his shot, but rather his accuracy. The veteran defenseman was just as likely to hit the boards with his shot than he was the net.
Honorable Mention: Jeff Hamilton
Hamilton only played 59 games with the Hurricanes, and only 157 in his NHL career, so he is easy to overlook. His 5’10” frame (and that’s being generous) likely didn’t help that situation. However, despite his size, Hamilton had a rocket, which led to the implementation of a 5-man powerplay during his time with Carolina.
Winner: Erik Cole
In his prime years, Cole was one of the fastest skaters in the league at the time. He was a big part of the Hurricanes’ BBC line (Battaglia/Brindamour/Cole) early in his career, and he looked to have a bright future ahead of him. Injuries kept him from reaching his full potential, but to his credit, he’s 36-years-old and still contributing a .5 PPG pace for the Dallas Stars this year.
Cole’s speed was his best asset, and it often left defenders helpless to do much else but take a penalty. He drew the penalty that eventually led to Carolina’s Stanley-Cup winning goal, and he was the first player in NHL history to take 2 penalty shots in the same game.
2nd Place: Brandon Sutter
Known more for his defensive acumen, Sutter was never given much chance to show his offensive chops in Carolina. However, when the opportunity presented itself, Sutter would usually convert. With a 6’3″ frame, it takes a bit to get Sutter in full stride, but when he reaches it, he’s hard to catch.
Honorable Mention: Joni Pitkanen
It might surprise some to see a defenseman on this list, but Pitkanen was a rover. He could jump into the offense, even wind up behind the net, and still easily skate his way back into defensive position should the play go south. Unfortunately, it was that same speed that led to the injury that ended his career in Carolina, and possibly his career in hockey, after a race to an icing call led to a violent collision along the boards.
Winner: Jussi Jokinen
Jokinen was already known for his shootout prowess before he came to Carolina, as time with the Dallas Stars did a good job showing off his skills. He lost some of success in the shootout with the Hurricanes, an aspect that left many fans wanting. However, he still remains one of the best in the skills competition in league history, with 35 goals in 86 attempts, and so he should remain the #1 spot for this article.
2nd place: Matt Cullen
Cullen was another staple to the shootout lineup during his time with the Hurricanes. He was the “Jokinen before Jokinen”, as far as Carolina was concerned. His career shootout percentage is actually better than Jussi Jokinen’s (41.1% compared to 40.7%), but he did not have as many tricks up his sleeves. Cullen had two or three reliable moves, but rarely mixed it up.
Honorable Mention: Chad LaRose & Patrick Dwyer
Two names you wouldn’t expect to see in the shootout deserve honorable mentions for the Breakaway Challenge. Patrick Dwyer has zero career shootout attempts, and LaRose has only two. However, both have shown the ability to produce and convert breakaway chances with the best of them. A relentless forecheck and boundless energy have often led to nothing but clear ice between them and the goaltender.
Accuracy Shooting Competition
Winner: Alexander Semin
Alright, so I cheated a bit here. Semin isn’t a former Hurricane, and he likely will not be one for quite some time. However, it was his performance before his time with Carolina that earned him the #1 spot in this competition. Everyone knows how deadly Semin’s shot is, but his performances against the Hurricanes were especially eye-opening. He had 27 goals and 45 points in 41 career games against Carolina. It was his ability to pick corners like this:
…that led to the Hurricanes giving him the one-year deal after the Capitals let him hit free agency. A nagging wrist injury has prevented Semin from putting in many similar goals for the Hurricanes, but with a few years left on his contract, there’s still time.
2nd Place: Justin Williams
Justin Williams has the distinction of being one of the few Carolina Hurricanes players not named Eric Staal to make the All-Star Game. After scoring 30 goals in the 2005-2006 season and on pace to do the same in 2006-2007, he attended the 2007 NHL All-Star Game in Dallas alongside Staal. He took part in the shootout in the skills competition, scoring on his attempt. Williams was another Hurricane player that the organization appeared to give up on far too soon, but in the midst of the multiple season-ending injuries he suffered during his last years in Carolina, it was an understandable move at the time.
Honorable Mention: Jiri Tlusty
Again, not a former Hurricane, though with the trade deadline rapidly approaching and Tlusty’s name on the block, that may change soon. Tlusty’s on the list because of his performance in the 2012-2013 lockout-shortened season. For whatever reason, Tlusty slotted in perfectly beside Eric Staal and Alexander Semin on the top line that year, and he was the beneficiary in a big way. Tlusty scored 23 goals that year, finishing with a 19.7 shooting percentage. Converting on every 5th shot he took earns an honorable mention for accuracy shooting.
There you have it. All-Star tools without the All-Star toolbox, so to speak. So now to hear from you. Any glaring omissions on the list or former Hurricanes players you feel could perform better than those mentioned above? Let me know. Enjoy this weekend’s All-Star festivities.
Jonathan Gardner currently lives in Raleigh, NC and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.