RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Nicklas Lidstrom’s first pick in the inaugural NHL All-Star fantasy draft was his only bad one – choosing the wrong side of a flipped puck with the No. 1 selection on the line.
Eric Staal of the host Carolina Hurricanes quickly picked goalie Cam Ward – his teammate – first overall for Team Staal.
“I was the best player available, I guess,” Ward quipped. “Yeah, I was surprised. He wouldn’t tell me. He wouldn’t lay down his cards, at all. Obviously, I knew I had a better chance to have him choose me early because he is a good friend and teammate. But I didn’t know if he really actually wanted me to sweat it out.”
The rest of the rosters for Sunday’s All-Star game – and Saturday night’s skills competition – were filled out as 36 players were chosen in the unique draft in which there was really no way to pick a bust.
“I’ve watched past All-Star games, and it’s not exactly goalie-friendly,” Ward said. “It’s how you approach it that matters. I’m here to celebrate and be proud of being All-Star and have fun. I’m not going to get too choked up if I get scored on five times or something like that.
“I’ve got to do something right because I’m the number one overall pick. I guess I’ve got to be lights out.”
Staal was more matter of fact in explaining his decision to go with Ward.
“He is a tremendous goalie, and I won a Stanley Cup with him,” Staal said of the 2006 champion Hurricanes.
Team Lidstrom was hardly hurt by the poor puck luck, as it was able to grab the league’s leader in goals, Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, with the second choice.
“It was kind of an easy pick for us,” Lidstrom said.
Two-time NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin was taken No. 3 by Staal’s alternate captain Mike Green, who proudly announced the pick of his Washington Capitals teammate. Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler is Staal’s other assistant.
Lidstrom received guidance from his alternates, Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis, and Patrick Kane from the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
“No arguments,” Lidstrom said. “You’re kind of debating back and forth who to pick.”
Not available was maybe the NHL’s biggest star. Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was forced to miss the festivities because of the effects of a concussion sustained earlier this month. Crosby and Stamkos tied last season with a league-best 51 goals.
After 34 players came off the board, it came down to Toronto’s Phil Kessel and Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche to determine who would be All-Star hockey’s first “Mr. Irrelevant.” Kessel earned the dubious distinction of being the last pick when Stastny was chosen by Team Staal.
“I’m just happy to be here,” said Kessel, who acknowledged that the wait was nerve-racking.
He didn’t leave empty-handed, however. He was awarded with a new car, and a donation will also be made to a charity of Kessel’s choice.
The NHL invented this new All-Star format after five years of pitting the Eastern Conference against the Western Conference, following a run of North American All-Stars versus their World counterparts. There was no All-Star game last season because of the lengthy break for the Vancouver Olympics.
While this draft was really about fun and games, it wasn’t without intrigue.
Reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks seemed to be annoyed and perplexed when he was shown on TV anxiously waiting to be rescued from the crowd. His ordeal ended when Kane called Toews’ name with the 16th pick for Team Lidstrom.
“Everyone is saying that,” Toews said of his seemingly unhappy expression. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
Henrik and Daniel Sedin, identical twins from the Vancouver Canucks, will be apart for the first time. Daniel went No. 5 to Team Staal, and Henrik went right after him at six to Team Lidstrom.
Staal made his younger brother Marc, a defenseman with the New York Rangers, sweat out his time for a while – leaving him on the board until the 13th pick.
He even added to the drama after Marc claimed during a television interview to be devastated to be passed over. When Eric began to make his 11th pick, he said “from the New York Rangers … Henrik Lundqvist.”
Staal readily admitted he wanted to rub it in a little bit.
“Yes,” Eric Staal said. “I felt a little bad for hesitating there and then saying Hank.”
Marc threatened to withhold future Christmas and birthday gifts from Eric before his name was finally announced, then softened once he joined his brother – with whom he has never been a teammate.
The pair shared a handshake.
“We’re fine,” Marc said. “I was just playing mind games. I didn’t really care all that much. I haven’t played with Eric my whole life, so that will be kind of cool in itself.”
Though it was mostly lighthearted, this draft did have a few ground rules.
Each roster had to consist of three goalies, six defensemen and 12 forwards. The only six players not subject to the draft were those chosen as captains. Twelve rookies were also up for bids to participate only in the skills competition.
Both teams had to fill their allotment of goalies by the 10th round and the defensemen by round 15. The All-Star game is mostly about the forwards in the typically free-flowing style that almost never produces a body check.
Staal is assured to have the home fans squarely on his side, first with the pick of Ward and then of 18-year-old forward Jeff Skinner, the third Hurricanes representative. Skinner joins former Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman as the only 18-year-old players to be NHL All-Stars.
“We figured he was going to go first. No surprise really,” Lidstrom said of Ward. “We were thinking about him but we thought he was going to go right away.
“I know he’s a fan favorite here. I talked to Eric afterward about him, and he said he is probably the biggest player here. So we’ll let him slide and let him play for his home team.”
Copyright Associated Press