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In an era dominated by young stars, two members of the Carolina Hurricanes have shown they are among the very best.

After a productive half-season, right wing Justin Williams, 25, and center Eric Staal, 22, will both be making their first NHL All-Star appearances this season in Dallas.

In terms of All-Star inexperience, they are far from being alone.

The All-Star competition has become a young man's game. Just ask 36-year-old Hurricanes Captain Rod Brind'Amour, who turned down an invitation this year to take a well-earned rest.

Of the 42 players from around the league selected this year, 31 are making either their first or second All-Star appearance. Aside from ageless wonders like Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom and Joe Sakic, many names on the roster, like Williams, are new to being elite.

"It came as a total shock to me, actually," said Williams after being selected. "It's just something I really wasn't expecting at all, and I'm really humbled and excited to be named to the All-Star Game and to be playing with such great players."

Given his performance this season, perhaps Williams shouldn't be so surprised after all. He leads his team in goals with 23 and is on pace to surpass last year's breakout total of 31. He has also built a reputation as a clutch scorer, as he currently is tied for the league lead with seven game-winning goals.

Never was he more clutch than in a game in Florida that came days after his selection. The Hurricanes had fallen behind due to a painful refereeing decision before Erik Cole tied the game late in the third period.

Then, Williams erased any doubts that may have been surrounding his selection.

Without even looking at the net, he fired a perfectly-placed laser of a wrist shot that caught everyone, especially the goaltender, off-guard, and won the game in overtime.

"It was a highlight-reel goal," said Hurricanes Head Coach Peter Laviolette after the game. "Sometimes, you just sit back and you're amazed what the players in the room behind you can accomplish."

Even after proving last year's season was no fluke, Williams himself still seems amazed that he has become worthy of being considered one of the league's best.

"I'm going to be one of those young, wide-eyed guys that are just excited to be there," said Williams. "The best part will be just the thrill of going to one and having that on my resume, saying that I've been to an All-Star Game. I couldn't be more excited."

Williams and Staal are the first Hurricanes teammates to be named All-Stars in the same season since Keith Primeau and Arturs Irbe in 1999.


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