For years the
The next Next One could be any of a half-dozen players who will participate in this weekend's All-Star festivities at
Injuries have kept established stars such as Crosby, his Pittsburgh teammate
"Both teams are sick," said Doughty, who got into the jovial spirit by jabbing Getzlaf about the Kings' playoff win over the Ducks last spring, "but I like our team."
The absence of some established stars has cleared the way for youngsters to step into the spotlight. Eleven All-Stars are under 25. Rookie scoring leader Filip Forsberg, 20, of Nashville replaced Malkin. Florida Panthers defenseman
And as unexpectedly amusing as Friday night's fantasy draft turned out —
"I think it's great. I think that's what it's all about," said Getzlaf, who teamed with Toews and
"It's a young man's game now and I think that when they come in and they're able to experience something like this, maybe get some of those nerves out that they have, it's a good experience."
Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane, who helped Foligno and Doughty choose their roster, recalled being in those kids' skates.
"I think it's a pretty cool thing they do with the young guys, bringing them along and letting them be part of the skills competition. I always enjoyed watching that Young Guns game when I was younger and I was part of that one time," he said, referring to one format the NHL has used. "These guys are going to be very good players in our league and players to watch in the future, so it's good they bring them along."
Ekblad, the first pick in the entry draft last June, has been impressive at a position kids usually take a while to master. He's averaging 22 minutes 3 seconds of ice time per game for Florida, where he's being mentored by former King Willie Mitchell.
Ekblad also credited his agent, Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, and Panthers broadcaster Denis Potvin, also a Hall of Fame defenseman, for guiding him.
"Every day me and Willie break everything down, when it comes to the games and practices. I learn a lot from him," Ekblad said. "Mr. Potvin is always in the room for media stuff, and we often talk. . . . It's a good support system to have, that's for sure."
Gaudreau sometimes can't believe where he is. "It's been a crazy year so far," he said. "I wasn't sure if I was going to stay in college or go pro. I think I made the right decision."
The youth theme will continue after this weekend. NHL Commissioner
Before that, though, the NHL's youngsters can make names for themselves here. Doughty is looking forward to seeing what they can do.
"They're going to be top players on their teams and top players in the league," he said, "and for them to come here and meet a lot of veteran guys and kind of get comfortable with these situations I think is important for them and for the league as well, to get their face out there."