Inside the NHL
It’s safe to say the Seattle area has never had NHL All-Star Game weekend representation quite like what we just saw in St. Louis.
From T.J. Oshie of Stanwood making the first All-Star appearance by a Washington native in NHL history, to former Seattle Thunderbirds captain Mathew Barzal winning the “Fastest Skater’’ competition, followed by NHL Seattle professional scout Cammi Granato coaching the U.S. in the women’s 3-on-3 event, local fans had plenty to tune in to. It was capped by Washington Capitals forward Oshie, 33, scoring a goal and adding an assist Saturday in what was somewhat surprisingly his first All-Star appearance of a decadelong career.
Oshie had arranged for his father, Tim, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, to fly out from Seattle for the weekend. After scoring his goal for the Metropolitan Division team in a 9-5 loss to the Atlantic side, Oshie turned and waved to his father in the stands.
“I don’t want to get into too many details, but there’s certain milestones that I’ve made in my career that I want him to be a part of if he’s able to make it and this was one of them,’’ Oshie told NHL Network.
It was fitting Oshie made his All-Star debut in St. Louis, given that’s where he spent most of his career before joining the Caps in 2015 and becoming the second Washingtonian to win a Stanley Cup after Aberdeen native Wayne Hicks with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1961.
That it took six decades for a Washington native to make the All-Star Game after Hicks debuted in the league is again surprising and probably not a gap destined to be repeated given our state’s increasing NHL presence. The arrival of NHL teams to any market tends to boost player representation, as witnessed by Scottsdale native Matthew Tkachuk giving Arizona its first All-Star player on Saturday — as well as fellow All-Star Auston Matthews also growing up in Scottsdale and playing his formative hockey there after being born in California.
This state has several future All-Star opportunities, starting with Tyler Johnson, 29, of Spokane — just coming into his own after a 29-goal season with the Tampa Bay Lightning last year. Johnson gets overshadowed by higher-profile teammates, but like Oshie — who had his first 30-goal season in 2016-17 — you could see him making an All-Star run at some point in his early 30s.
Elsewhere, fellow Spokane alum Derek Ryan, 33, of the Calgary Flames, like Johnson, has already been an American Hockey League All-Star and also is getting better with age. Ryan is on pace to set a career best for points this season after notching 38 each of his past two campaigns — though he’d need to quicken the pace for All-Star consideration as he nears his mid-30s.
Odds are better that Spokane’s Kailer Yamamoto of the Edmonton Oilers or Bonney Lake product Dylan Gambrell of the San Jose Sharks will get there first. Both are in their early 20s and have been All-Stars at the junior level — Yamamoto in major junior with Spokane and Gambrell in the United States Hockey League with Dubuque.
And speaking of former junior stars, anybody who saw New York Islanders center Barzal lead the local Thunderbirds to a Western Hockey League title in 2017 knew he was fast on skates. But few expected him to knock of three-time defending “Fastest Skater’’ champion Connor McDavid of the Oilers the way he did in Friday night’s All-Star skills competition.
During player interviews right up until the final skaters went, the unanimous consensus had been not to bet against McDavid. And you could see why, as he narrowly missed a fourth title, clocking in his sprint lap at 13.215 seconds compared with 13.175 by Barzal.
Chris Kreider had led the event all the way at 13.509 seconds up until the final two skaters, when Barzal took the lead. That left it to McDavid, kept the last to go for obvious suspense reasons, but he couldn’t make up the ground.
Interestingly enough, hours after Barzal’s triumph, the New York Post floated a rumor the pending restricted free agent could wind up unprotected in the expansion draft and taken by NHL Seattle as part of a prearranged deal for future high-level draft picks.
We’ll put that one down as “unlikely,’’ but it’s an interesting theory. Much depends on how the Islanders progress as a playoff team and whether Barzal can thrive under the less-wide-open style of coach Barry Trotz.
Barzal was paired alongside Oshie for the Metro division, assisting on two goals.
Not long after Barzal’s skills-event victory Friday, the women’s 3-on-3 game made its much-anticipated debut, with Granato coaching the U.S. in a 2-1 loss to Canada. For those unfamiliar with women’s hockey, the U.S.-Canada rivalry is about as intense as it gets in the sport and usually a top Winter Olympics highlight.
Canada grabbed a 2-0 lead before Hilary Knight made it a game by scoring on a breakaway with 5:36 to go. If not for acrobatic saves by Canadian goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens — including a point-blank stop on Amanda Kessel as the final buzzer sounded — the end result likely would have been different.
Granato is expected in town Tuesday night for a “Science of Scouting’’ public event at Seattle Center alongside other NHL Seattle scouts. No doubt she’ll be asked about her All-Star appearance and the likelihood of increased local participation in future games as this city’s NHL debut fast approaches.