|Friday, February 1
Updated: February 5, 12:22 PM ET
Kovalchuk's six-goal outburst turns heads
ESPN's analyst share their thoughts on the 2002 NHL YoungStars game and SuperSkills competition:
I like the format but I think we need to tinker with it to get two defensemen on the ice at all times - to make it a little more defensive-oriented and cut the goals against down. But the show is skill and the fans want to see Ilya Kovalchuk score goals, they want to see Pavel Datsyuk and Mike Comrie make great passes, so maybe a little tweak to the format to create a better defensive matchup would be good.
Kovalchuk was the star tonight. And he is going to be one the rest of his career -- he's going to score a ton of goals and he is going to be flashy. Dan Heatley scored a goal and you got to see what makes him special. He's going to be a guy that plays in all situations. You saw what a great skater David Tanabe is, Justin Williams showed his speed, Scott Hartnell showed his physical strength ... everybody showed why they belonged in the YoungStars game.
As far as the goalies, Roberto Luongo made the saves early and looked great. Somehow they were going by Dan Blackburn and I felt sorry for him after awhile. Any All-Star game is a terrible format for goaltenders. It's not defensive-prone, so I think if we can get two defenseman on the ice at all times it will help the goaltenders.
The young kids shined during the SuperSkills, too. You saw Jarome Iginla's big shot going 97 mph and hitting the targets, you saw Joe Thornton's size and strength combined with his skating ability. I like the young kids coming into this league, and with the YoungStars game and the young stars at the All-Star game, they are starting to show that they are ready to take over.
It's so uncontrolled from a goalie standpoint. You get to see some brilliant saves but on a good night in one of these games you are going to give up seven goals. The goalies kind of get forgotten. I thought Dan Blackburn made more great saves that Roberto Luongo even. He was so acrobatic in there. If anyone deserves a big pat on the back it's Blackburn. Yes, they scored a lot on him but my goodness, point blank lasers from the best young shooters in the world! Blackburn will leave this behind and look at it as a good chance to meet guys and just have a good time. You can't look at this like you look at the regular season.
I thought Mike Comrie from the Oilers and Dany Heatley from the Thrashers looked great. There wasn't one player out there who didn't belong to be there. I would bet that next year we will see 6-8 of these guys in the All-Star game. Justin Williams, Mike Comrie, Dan Heatley are just a few. I thoroughly loved this game.
As for the performances, Ilyna Kovalchuk put on a clinic. You can tell he thrives on those environments. Some guys just rise to the occasion and are less inhibited in things like this. Here is a kid who said he wanted to be the best Russian ever when he came into the league. He put on a great show.
The goalies? It was hell for them. It's a new environment, they have to battle their nerves and they don't get a real warmup. How you start the game is so important. The scorers can miss a couple and nobody remembers but if the goalies miss a few it's a big deal. It was really difficult for the goalies and I think they both did a great job. Dan Blackburn might have given up some goals but I thought he did great. You don't see many young goaltenders in the league nowadays because they need time to develop a thick skin and establish themselves and feel confident about themselves in the NHL. Blackburn is here because he deserves it and he is a star. I don't think this will effect him at all. He's a competitor and I'm sure he's feeling it but he shouldn't feel bad at all. This whole thing is geared for scoring. I talked to Dominik Hasek and he said they all hate it. They stand around and get all stiffened up and are scared to death they are going to pull a hamstring. The whole thing is geared for the fans to see goals scored.
We will absolutely see many of these guys in the All-Star game in the coming years. It's just a matter of time.