Whether it was the change in format from last year or just a more exciting group of rookies, the 2008 edition of the NHL YoungStars game was very compelling viewing as an event within the NHL Skills Competition. It was the event that best showcased the skill level of the league’s players, via a 3-on-3 format of two six-minute periods of run-time.
The Eastern Conference YoungStars outscored the West 7-6. Pro-rated to a 60-minute game, those 13 goals scored in just 12 minutes would come out to 65 goals. The game was this high-scoring even despite the fact that defensemen were over-represented, with four forwards and four defensemen named per team. All of the participants were rookies.
Brandon Dubinsky (NYR) also scored two goals and was named the game’s MVP. The first goal he scored was a loose puck around the net, and the second on a nice pass from defenseman Kris Letang (PIT). Passing was excellent throughout the game, despite the lack of familiarity among most of the participants.
Patrick Kane (CHI), currently the leading rookie scorer in the NHL, scored twice, both times on a breakaway. Breakaways were the natural outcome with so much open ice in 3-on-3. Milan Lucic (BOS) scored on his breakaway, as did David Clarkson (NJ) on a long-bomb pass from Tobias Enstrom for the game’s first goal. Clarkson, an energy player for the Devils, showed good offensive instincts and had two other quality chances in the game.
Peter Mueller (PHO) had the first scoring chance of the game, which he didn’t convert on, but did score later on. Jack Johnson scored on a roof job, as did David Perron on a deke to the top shelf. Erik Johnson scored on a 2-on-1 with Blues teammate Perron. Other goals were scored by Marc Staal and Sam Gagner. Gagner was the game’s youngest participant, still just 18 years old.
The YoungStars shot on NHL All-Star goaltenders instead of fellow rookies. It’s hard to imagine that with rookie goaltenders, this affair could have been even more high-scoring. Goaltenders Chris Osgood and Tim Thomas played the first period, while Legace and Vokoun played the second. Osgood was kiddingly jeered by the pro-Eastern Conference crowd.
Swedish buddies Backstrom and Enstrom met up for a 2-on-1, but were so generous passing the puck to each other that they ran out of real estate and failed to score.
Going into the game, the Western Conference had the names with more cachet, and were the favorite to win. But don’t tell the Eastern YoungStars.
"I didn’t know we were the underdog," Clarkson laughed. "I knew they had good players, but we had good players on our side too."
The East certainly came to play, jumping out to a 6-2 lead in the first half, but the West mounted a comeback late in the game.
"I think everybody had fun," Perron said after the game. "We just wish it would have been maybe a little longer. You just get warmed up and the first period was already over. In the second, we were coming back."
Perron, who has nine goals in 35 games for St. Louis this year, enjoyed the open ice. "Of course as an offensive guy you like that," he said. "You could tell the skill level of the young guys. It was pretty cool."
The YoungStars were able to share the entire all-star experience this weekend, practicing with the older players, being in the media spotlight and walking the red carpet on Saturday afternoon on their way into the arena.
"It was a lot of fun," Clarkson said. "We got talking and knowing each other throughout the weekend. It’s been a good time."
Notes: Tyler Kennedy (PIT) was originally named to the YoungStars roster, but had to withdraw for health reasons. Clarkson was named in his place. Third-leading rookie scorer Jonathan Toews was unavailable due to injury… The Western Conference was the much younger team, the oldest member being Alexander Edler (VAN) at 21 years old. The Eastern Conference had three 23-year-olds – Clarkson, Enstrom, and Mike Lundin (TB)… Clarkson was the only undrafted player among the YoungStars, signed out of the OHL by New Jersey. Enstrom was the lowest-drafted player, at 239th overall in 2003… Nine of the 16 YoungStars were former first-round picks. Seven of those nine first-rounders played for the Western Conference. Edler was the only non-first rounder on the Western squad… Three Swedes — Enstrom, Backstrom and Edler — comprised the entire European contingent of YoungStars… The YoungStars had a group photo taken when they came out onto the ice because Enstrom and Backstrom weren’t at the morning skate.