Columbus Blue Jackets

Will the Youngstars even have a chance? (Updated)

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NOTE: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly listed the cutoff/eligibility birth date as Sept. 1, 1993. It is Sept. 1, 1992. Changes have been made to reflect this new date.

COLUMBUS — Gary Bettman said they’ll be “incredibly competitive.”

Patrick Kane said ‘it’s a young man’s game.”

Well, in 19 months we’ll know for sure.

During Saturday’s official announcement of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey — which will include new entities in Team Europe (players outside of Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic) and the North American Youngstars — there was plenty of focus on the latter.

Specifically, who’s going to be on this team? And how good will it be?

Per ESPN, Youngstars-eligible players will need to be 23 or younger by Sept. 1, 2016 — meaning the cutoff birth date is Sept. 1, 1992. What’s more, 23-and-under players can only play for the Youngstars, not the Canadian or U.S. senior national teams.

And that could make for some interesting roster decisions.

Per Bettman, World Cup teams will carry traditional 23-man rosters. To give an idea of what the North American Youngstars are currently working with, here’s a list of eligible players that’ve participated in NHL games this year.

Forwards: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Brandon Saad, Matt Nieto, Sean Couturier, J.T. Miller, Nathan MacKinnon, Sean Monahan, Mark Scheifele, Jonathan Huberdeau, Boone Jenner, Ryan Strome, Johnny Gaudreau, Alex Galchenyuk, Jonathan Drouin, Bo Horvat, Sam Reinhart, Anthony Duclair, Curtis Lazar.

Defense: Connor Murphy, Dougie Hamilton, Aaron Ekblad, Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones, Morgan Rielly, Damon Severson, Ryan Murray, Cody Ceci, Derrick Pouliot, Griffin Reinhart, Matt Dumba, Darnell Nurse.

Goalies: John Gibson.

Obviously, the above players will have matured and gained experience, and players yet to make their NHL debuts will be in the mix. Many have already speculated about the projected top two picks at the 2015 Draft — Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel — becoming Youngstars teammates; there are also those that starred at the recently-completed World Junior Championships (think Max Domi, Samuel Morin, Josh Morrissey, Nic Petan, Dylan Larkin, Sonny Milano, Anthony DeAngelo, etc.)

Goaltending will probably be the biggest issue. Rarely do netminders become NHL regulars at that young an age; as such, you’ll speculatively hear the names of Malcolm Subban, Zach Fucale and Thatcher Demko get thrown around. The goaltending position is, by far, the most difficult to handicap.

All of which begs the question: While the Youngstars idea is great in theory, will it actually work when executed? Will the Youngstars provide stiffer competition than, say, Switzerland, which sits seventh in the latest IIHF Rankings?

One guy that sounded entirely on board with the Youngstars was Kane — who, you’ll remember, made his NHL debut at 18 and went on to win the Calder.

“If you look at hockey these days it’s a young man’s game, more that ever now,” Kane said on Saturday. “Teenagers are coming into the league and playing right away now, and the skill level is better and better.

“I think we all like watching young players play the game. I know myself I like watching the World Juniors to see who are the next up and coming guys, and I think fans enjoy that too.”

All-Star captains Foligno and Toews announce player assignments for skills competition

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Team Foligno and Team Toews announced the All-Star and rookie assignments for tonight’s All-Star Skills competition, which you can watch live at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN or online at NBCSports.com.

Maple Leafs’ forward Phil Kessel, who was traded from Team Toews to Team Foligno Friday night highlights the list of players participating in the fastest skater competition. Jonathan Drouin of the Lightning, Habs’ Jiri Sekac and Buffalo’s Zemgus Girigensons will also skate for Team Foligno. They’ll compete against Tyler Seguin, who was involved in the Kessel trade, Mike Hoffman of the Ottawa Senators, Panthers’ rookie Aaron Ekblad and Blues’ sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

Team Foligno will set Alex Ovechkin, Claude Giroux, Ryan Johansen free in the breakaway challenge, they’ll face Team Toews’ Corey Crawford. For Team Toews’ Tarasenko, Jakub Voracek and Johnny Gaudreau will be tasked with beating Brian Elliott.

Bobby Ryan, Nick Foligno, Radim Vrbata and Patrick Kane will receive passes from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Anze Kopitar for Team Foligno in the accuracy shooting competition. Rick Nash and Patrik Elias will feed shooters Ryan Getzlaf, Patrice Bergeron, John Tavares and Jonathan Toews for Team Toews.

Ryan Johansen and Kane highlight Team Foligno participants for the challenge relay while Team Toews replied with Gaudreau and Bergeron.

Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien will be part of a group of four shooters for Team Foligno in the hardest shot competition. They’ll be challenged by the likes of Brent Seabrook and Shea Weber from Team Toews.

The shootout competition will feature the likes of Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos from Team Foligno go up against Tarasenko and Tavares from Team Toews.

Individual winners will be crowned from each of the six events and points in the overall team vs. team competition will also be awarded from each challenge.

Blue Jackets’ Foligno: ‘We need to bring a winning team here’

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Since the National Hockey League expanded to Columbus, the Blue Jackets have qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs only twice. And, after 45 games in 2014-15, a second consecutive trip to the post-season appears in jeopardy.

After nine and six-game losing streaks that ran through October and November, the Blue Jackets sit 14 points out of the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break, with this weekend’s festivities in Columbus.

Hard to gain momentum in a market without a winning product.

As Yahoo Sports reported, the Blue Jackets have been near the bottom of the league when it comes to attendance. According to ESPN, they sit 24th in the league with an average attendance of 15,611 fans per game.

“We need to bring a winning team here,” Columbus forward and All-Star captain Nick Foligno told Yahoo Sports.

“We really started something special last year, and we want that to continue. Obviously not off to the best start this year, but we’re working our way through it. We’re still a young team. There’s going to be growing pains.

“If we can get a winning team in this city, it’s going to be an unbelievable city for a lot of years, and I think the fans will really jump on board, which they already have, really. I’m excited to see what we can do with a winning franchise in this city.”

At the end of December, the Blue Jackets signed Foligno to a six-year, $33 million contract extension.

And they’ve locked up the backbone of their team, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, to a long-term deal – a four-year, $29.7 million contract extension announced earlier this month.

Players have fun, show off personalities in water-fueled All-Star Fantasy Draft

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COLUMBUS — If the number one goal of this weekend is fun, then mission accomplished tonight at the All-Star Fantasy Draft.

The players had fun; that much was obvious. And based on social media, the fans enjoyed watching them have fun.

“It was fun. The two teams obviously had some ideas on what they wanted to do, but after that you’re just going with the flow and having fun up there. Nothing too serious,” said Patrick Kane, one of the assistants on Team Foligno.

“I think the only thing that was set up was they wanted us to make a trade, because there was a trade available.”

It was a fun trade, too. Tyler Seguin for Phil Kessel. Because of course.

“They told us to just have fun with it,” said Kane. “Show off the personality, and just roll with the show. I think throughout the whole thing it wasn’t too serious, it was just kinda fun.

“And I think that’s the good thing about hockey players. We can have battles on the ice — like you saw with [Mark Giordano and Ryan Getzlaf], they said they didn’t like each other too much last game, and they’re joking around about it — so that’s the great thing about hockey players.”

The joking around continued afterwards, when the players were asked what was in those cups.

Apparently, just water.

“I think we drank, honestly, three or four cases of water,” said Nick Foligno. “I’ve never gone to the bathroom that much in my life. It was a lot of water.”

“When you come from L.A. to Columbus, you struggle to stay hydrated, just because of the long flight and whatnot,” added Drew Doughty, who sure was hydrated, wasn’t he?

And what about Alex Ovechkin? Did he steal the show or what?

“Oh yeah, he did,” said Doughty. “We kind of had it planned out. He was lobbying to go last in the draft to get the car, so we had a plan that he was going third last, no matter what.”

Hockey players take a lot of heat for giving boring, clichéd quotes. For the most part, they don’t like drawing attention to themselves as individuals, and they don’t like saying things that could be deemed controversial.

Tonight, the players took a few chances and it paid off in laughs.

Apparently, the trick is lots of water.

NHL All-Star Game rosters set after fantasy draft

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The rosters for the 2015 NHL All-Star game have been decided. Drink it all in, hockey fans.

We saw it all tonight, didn’t we?

Phil Kessel wasn’t taken last, selected second overall by Team Toews, and then traded to Team Foligno for Tyler Seguin. Alex Ovechkin so desired a new car and didn’t get one.

Here are the rosters for both All-Star teams.

TEAM FOLIGNO:

Forwards: Nick Foligno, Patrick Kane, Ryan Johansen, Anze Kopitar, Steven Stamkos, Phil Kessel, Claude Giroux, Bobby Ryan, Radim Vrbata, Zemgus Girgensons, Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Defensemen: Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Burns, Kevin Shattenkirk, Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Goalies: Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury, Brian Elliott.

TEAM TOEWS:

Forwards: Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, Tyler Seguin, Jakub Voracek, John Tavares, Vladimir Tarasenko, Patrice Bergeron, Patrik Elias, Tyler Johnson, Filip Forsberg.

Defensemen: Shea Weber, Brent Seabrook, Aaron Ekblad, Ryan Suter, Mark Giordano, Justin Faulk.

Goalies: Corey Crawford, Roberto Luongo, Jaroslav Halak.