His poise under pressure is one of the key factors that have allowed Alex Edler to take his game to a new level this season. It’s also one of the main reasons the Vancouver Canucks defenceman has been invited to the National Hockey League all-star game for the first time in his career.
But there are times you’d love to shake the unflappable native of Ostersund, Sweden, and let him know it’s okay to show a little emotion. Soft-spoken (when he speaks at all) and with no hint of the self-importance shown by so many of today’s professional athletes, Edler lets his actions on the ice do all of his talking.
An interview all-star he’ll likely never be. But Edler’s play this year in all areas of the game has earned him his rightful spot among the league’s best and brightest as the all-stars gather in Ottawa today through Sunday (January 29) for the league’s annual midseason showcase.
The 25-year-old insists he’ll be comfortable skating with the greats, but in typical Edler fashion he’s not all that comfortable talking about it.
“It’s a big deal,” he tells the Georgia Straight in a hushed tone in the Canucks locker room after a recent practice at Rogers Arena, almost sounding as if he’s convincing himself of that fact. “Not everyone gets picked for the all-star game. I’m very honoured, very happy to be one of those guys. You must have done something right if you’ve been picked for the all-star game. So that’s a good thing. It means that I’ve had a good year so far.”
That’s putting it mildly.
In his first 48 games this season, Edler had seven goals and 34 points, was third on the Canucks in scoring, and was the second-highest point-producing defenceman in the league. Two-thirds of the way through the season, he’s closing in on career highs for both goals and points and has emerged as a two-way force capable of logging big minutes and delivering at both ends of the ice.
It was at this time last year that Edler underwent back surgery, but he returned in time to play a key role in the Canucks’ run to the Stanley Cup final. He’s picked up where he left off and found a way to elevate his game this season, helping the Canucks push for top spot in the competitive Western Conference standings.
Edler will be joined in Ottawa by teammates Daniel and Henrik Sedin, along with Cody Hodgson, who’s going as one of this year’s top rookies. Having guys around him he’s comfortable with should help Edler when he steps into a room filled with the biggest names in the game.
He’s not likely to be the centre of attention at an event like the all-star game, but Edler’s teammates are confident he’ll make the most of the experience and may even surprise a few people along the way.
“You know what? He’s a mature guy,” Daniel Sedin says. “And I know he’s really happy to be there. And he deserves it, too. He’s one of the top defencemen in the league: he’s shown that this year. He should be there, and it’ll be a fun experience for him, and he’s going to play a lot of all-star games, I’m sure. He’s a funny guy, and I think he’s one of the most-liked guys on the team. You don’t see a lot of that, but he’s a great guy.”
“He’s quiet but he takes everything in,” Canucks assistant coach Rick Bowness, who handles the team’s defence, says of his low-key blueliner. “He’s a very observant, very intelligent kid. I’m thrilled for him. He will go in there, he will sit back, he will be quiet but he won’t miss a thing. He certainly deserves it. For a young player, going to the all-star game for the first time and getting to meet all the elite players in the league, that’s a big thrill. Will he be intimidated by it? Absolutely not. Will he take it all in? Yes, he will.”
One of the things that should help put Edler at ease while he makes his first all-star appearance is the fact he was part of the 2008 all-star event in Atlanta when he took part in the parallel (and now defunct) “young stars” game for first- and second-year players. So he has a sense of what to expect as he takes part in the NHL fantasy draft, the skills competition, and then the game itself.
The entire weekend is a celebration of the sport he loves, and his inclusion means he’s being recognized for playing the game at an elite level this season. He’ll be sharing the ice with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Alexander Ovechkin, and Zdeno Chara. That’s an honour he has earned, but as is his habit, Edler still isn’t completely sure that he belongs.
“I don’t know,” he says with a small scoff, as if to dismiss the question, when asked if he feels like one of the best players in the league. “I’m not going to be uncomfortable walking into a room just because there are other guys who are really good in there. Anyone can do it. I don’t think it’s a hard thing that way. It’ll be good to meet a lot of the other players. It’s great that we [the Canucks] have got so many guys going, and it will be fun to do this together with them.”
Edler will likely enjoy his all-star experience more than he’ll ever let on. And after the game, there probably won’t be a rush to his locker stall for interviews—and that will be just fine for an outstanding player who seems happiest when he isn’t standing out at all.
Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter.