Blue collar all-star

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

When Shawn Horcoff broke into the NHL seven years ago, nobody in their wildest dreams looked at the unspectacular centre drafted 99th overall and thought it was only a matter of time until he developed into an all-star.

Plumber? Yes. Utility forward? Sure. Decent third liner? Probably.

All-Star?

Chris Angel, Kreskin and the entire staff of the Psychic Hotline wouldn't have the crystal balls to predict that in.

Heck, at the start of this year people weren't sure he had enough talent to be a first-liner, much less warrant an all-star berth.

But there he'll be, rubbing shoulders with the best of the best in the Western Conference later this month in Atlanta.

SURPRISE STAR

Shawn Horcoff, All-Star. Who woulda guessed?

"It's obviously a huge honour to be recognized with the top players in the game," said the Oilers veteran, who found out yesterday morning he'd been added to the team.

"I can't say it's something I ever expected to happen, but I worked hard to get here and it's pretty gratifying."

It should be. There's been nothing fast or easy about Horcoff's evolution, just years of hard work and dedication in the face of overwhelming doubt.

"It's a great lesson," said teammate Ethan Moreau. "He came into the league, went through some growing pains in the minors, was on our fourth line, sat out some games, and he's kind of worked himself into the position that he is now.

"He's an all-star. That's a pretty good story. It's basically through work ethic and the way he prepares himself.

"He has skill, he's a good player, but the thing that takes him to that next level is he works harder than anybody else. That's why he has success."

Horcoff started building his game from the defensive end out, earning more trust, gaining more responsibility and slowly inching his way from the fourth line to the first. A year or two at a time.

And now this. Feeding off a synergy with Ales Hemsky, he's one of the best two-way players in hockey.

"I don't think he gets the credit he deserves," said Fernando Pisani. "He's on the power play, penalty kill, he's out there 20-plus minutes a night. He's been doing it all for us. It's great to see him get some recognition."

And all you need to know about Horcoff's offensive development can be found in his point totals, which increased every year he's been a pro except one: 16 points in his rookie season, then 22, 33, 40, 46 (in Sweden during the lockout year and 73 in 2005-06. He had a 51 point hiccup during last year's lost season, but is back on pace for another career high.

This while expending a big chunk of his energy on aspects of the game that have nothing to do with putting up points and everything to do with helping a team win.

"It speaks to the dimension of his game because there's not a situation I don't rely on him in during the course of a game," said Craig MacTavish. "He's a great role model. Yesterday in practice I went to a player and said 'Watch Horcoff, practice, just watch him.' From a coaching perspective it's so beneficial to have your best players be your best examples."

LOVE THE EFFORT

When somebody dripping with god-given, world-class talent all his life makes an all-star team it's one thing, but when a guy who was supposed to be average gets there by rolling up his sleeves and putting in the extra effort his whole career, you have to think it means a little more.

"When you first come in the league I just wanted to be in the lineup every night, never mind be an all-star," said Horcoff.

"It is surprising, but at the same time I've worked extremely hard, pretty much worked my way from the bottom to the top, so in that respect, today, this moment, is pretty satisfying for me."


Videos

Photos