Predators' defensive duo looks to take game to the All-Star stage

Sunday, January 22, 2012 at 11:31pm

In any sport, an All-Star Game affords participants an opportunity they otherwise would not have — to play with some of the very best in the game.

Shea Weber understands as much. He has participated in the last two NHL All-Star contests and a year ago capitalized on a one-time partnership with a rare performance.

Even so, the Nashville Predators defenseman figures things can’t get much better than they are in most games of the regular season.

That’s why he hopes the 2012 NHL All-Star Game, which takes place Sunday at Ottawa (3 p.m., NBC Sports Network), is not much different than any other contest he will play this season. In short, he wants to play with — not against — Ryan Suter.

“I think I’ll be a little bit more nervous this year to see whether your [defense] partner is going to be with you,” he said. “It will be a little bit of fun there but a little bit of nervousness too.”

Weber and Suter have been partners practically from the moment they entered the NHL.

Nashville selected Suter seventh overall in the 2003 draft and grabbed Weber 42 picks later. By the end of the 2005-06 season they were full-time NHL players, and over the past six years they have evolved from an intriguing pairing of prospects to a duo that is widely recognized as one of the sport’s top blue line units.

This year, for the first time, both are NHL All-Stars. Their selection by the league office make Nashville the only franchise with two defensemen scheduled to participate this year. Forward Craig Smith also was selected to take part in the rookie skills competition.

Weber has played in the last two and is poised to become the first Nashville player with three all-time appearances (Kimmo Timonen was selected three times but sat out once with an injury). Suter, a first-time selection, is the sixth Predators player and third defenseman named to the All-Star Game.

Even with his experience, given the chance — potentially — to spend a game alongside the likes of Zdeno Chara or Brian Campbell or Keith Yandle and the like, Weber would just as soon stick with Suter.

“He’d be my first choice,” Weber said. “Obviously, playing with him during the year, and we’ve played together for so long it would be fun to play on such a big stage with a guy like that.”

He, of course, does not get to make that decision.

For the second straight year, a playground-style “draft” will determine the 21-man teams that will face off in this year’s event. Chara and Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson were picked to lead the teams and will choose the sides.

A year ago Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom picked Weber, Nashville’s lone representative at the past two All-Star Games, eighth overall and third among defensemen. Weber then played alongside Lidstrom and joined Hall of Famer Ray Bourque as the only defensemen to record four assists in an All-Star Game. His four points also tied for game-high honors.

Part of the drama of last year’s selection process was whether twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin of Vancouver would end up on opposite sides, something that effectively had never happened. They did, and they combined for three assists.

“Obviously, the biggest thing the league wants to do is make it a show and keep it interesting for the fans and everyone else,” he said. “They got good reviews [of the draft] last year, I guess, because they’re going to it again this year.

“It is a little nerve-wracking.”