A friend recently presented me with a challenge: pick a 2016-17 Color of Hockey All-Star team.
Challenge accepted! But it wasn’t easy. Several players of color had really good 2016-17 seasons, enough to spark lively bar debates over who’s worthy of being a first-team all-star and who’s not.So here are my picks. Weigh in with your choices via the Color of Hockey Facebook page or Twitter @ColorOfHockey. Without further ado:
Auston Matthews, center, Toronto Maple Leafs. The 19-year-old Mexican-American from Arizona terrorized NHL goalies in his rookie year and returned the Leafs to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Matthews led the team in scoring with 40 goals and 29 assists while playing in all 82 regular season games. His 40 goals tied him for second in the NHL with Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov. Matthews’ 69 points were tops among NHL rookies and 20th among all NHL players.
Wayne Simmonds, right wing, Philadelphia Flyers. Simmonds won the Most Valuable Player award at the NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles in January. He also played for Silver Medal-winning Team Canada at the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship in Paris and Cologne in May.
The Wayne Train led the Flyers in goals with 31. He was fourth on the team in scoring with 54 points – the combination of 31 goals and 23 assists. He also was the Flyers’ toughest customer, leading the team with 122 penalty minutes.
Brandon Saad, left wing, Columbus Blue Jackets. The U.S.-born son of a Syrian immigrant, Saad was the Blue Jackets’ third-leading scorer with 24 goals and 29 assists in 82 games He was the 18th-leading scorer among the league’s left wings, a group that includes Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand.
Dustin Byfuglien, defense, Winnipeg Jets. Big shot. Big hits. Big man. Big Buff, at 6-foot-5, 260-pounds, was fifth among NHL defensemen in scoring with 13 goals and 39 assists in 80 games. He was fifth on the Jets in scoring with 52 points.
USA Hockey’s brain trust left him off the 2014 U.S. Olympic team and his use by Blue Jackets Head Coach John Tortorella as bench of the U.S. team in September’s World Cup of Hockey was curious. But Byfuglien probably would have gotten a hard look for the 2018 Winter Games
Seth Jones, D, Columbus Blue Jackets. What? No P.K. Subban? Let the arguments begin. Jones, the son of former National Basketball Association player Popeye Jones, was Columbus’ seventh-leading scorer with 12 goals and 30 assists in 75 regular season games.
He was 19th among NHL defensemen in scoring. Subban, the Nashville Predators’ D-man, was 22nd among the league’s blue-liners with 10 goals and 30 assists in 66 games.
Jones would be a lock for Team USA at the 2018 Winter Games in February if NHLers were going.
Carey Price, goaltender, Montreal Canadiens. Price rebounded from an injury-shortened 2015-16 season to finish fifth among NHL goalies with a 30-20-5 record and a 2.23 goals-against average. Price, whose mother is a former Ulkatcho First Nation chief, had three shutouts during the 2016-17 season.
Price was an Olympian in 2014 and would be in the mix to be Canada’s top netminder for the 2018 Winter Games if the NHL were sending its players.
SECOND TEAMNazem Kadri, center, Toronto Maple Leafs. Kadri had a breakout year with Toronto, scoring 32 goals and 29 assists in 82 games. The son of a Lebanese Muslim father, the London, Ontario-born Kadri finished 15th in scoring among centers, an elite group that includes the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid and the Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom.
Evander Kane, left wing, Buffalo Sabres. Talented on the ice and sometimes trying off it, Kane tallied 28 goals and 15 assists in 70 games for Buffalo. He was sixth on the Sabres in scoring and 35th among the NHL’s left wings.
T.J. Oshie, right wing, Washington Capitals. Of Ojibwe heritage, Oshie enjoyed a stellar second season with the Capitals. He finished fifth on the team in scoring with 33 goals and 23 assists in 68 games. Four of those goals were game-winners.
A shootist remembered for his stunning display of moves during a dramatic U.S.-Russia shootout at the 2014 Olympics, Oshie would surely be under consideration for the 2018 U.S. Olympic squad.
P.K. Subban, defense, Nashville Predators. Adjusting to a new team, new town, and coping with injuries, Subban’s still manged to score 40 points on 10 goals and 30 assists. He’ll forever be linked to defenseman Shea Weber for whom he was swapped in the stunning trade last summer between Nashville and the Canadiens.
So how did Weber do in 2016-17? He had 17 goals and 25 assists – 42 points – in 78 games. Weber’s Canadiens were ousted from the playoffs in the first round by the New York Rangers. Subban and the Predators are playing in the Cup Final against the defending champion Penguins.Matt Dumba, defense, Minnesota Wild. The fourth-year NHLer posted a career-best 11 goals and 23 assists in 76 games. His plus/minus – an indicator of defensive responsibility – improved from plus-1 in 2015-16 to plus-15 in 2016-17.
Charles Williams, goaltender, Canisius College. Sure, he’s not in the NHL but that doesn’t diminish the amazing 2016-17 season Williams had. He helped guide Canisius’ Golden Griffins to an Atlantic Hockey regular season title and was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, presented to the top NCAA Division I men’s hockey player.Williams posted a 15-6-4 record and helped backstop Canisius to a 17-game unbeaten streak. He led all Division I goalies with a .946 save percentage during the regular season. He was tied for first with 5 shutouts and second in the nation with a 1.83 goals-against average.
Williams, who was a fifth-year transfer student, signed a standard player contract in March with the Manchester Monarchs, the Los Angeles Kings’ ECHL farm team.
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