RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Phil Kessel could only watch while every other player was picked in the NHL All-Star fantasy draft. Then, as he sat alone, Alex Ovechkin pulled out a cell phone and snapped a photo of the Toronto Maple Leafs forward.
Being a good sport, Kessel took it all in stride Friday night.
He didn’t seem to mind becoming the first Mr. Irrelevant of the NHL All-Star game, insisting the bigger deal was making the All-Star team _ it didn’t matter which one _ for the first time. Team Lidstrom and captain Nicklas Lidstrom picked Kessel with the 36th and final pick of the inaugural draft.
“I get to go out there and play, just go out there and play the game,” Kessel said. “Honestly, (being picked last) doesn’t matter. … We’re just happy to be here. It means you’re doing pretty well, I guess.”
He and Colorado’s Paul Stastny were the last two players remaining, and shortly after captain Eric Staal picked Stastny for Team Staal with the 35th pick, Ovechkin whipped out a phone and took Kessel’s picture.
Team Lidstrom assistant captain Patrick Kane then announced, “We’re happy with our last pick in the draft, so we’ll take Phil Kessel.”
Of course, he’s plenty relevant to the Maple Leafs. The fifth pick of the 2006 draft ranks second on the team with 19 goals and has 15 assists in 49 games.
And don’t feel too bad for Kessel: He will receive a car, and a donation will be made in Kessel’s name to a charity of his choice. Kessel, who beat testicular cancer when he was a rookie, said the money would go toward a charity that fights the disease.
In an effort to shake things up and generate buzz, the league scrapped the East-West format and instead determined the teams for Sunday night’s game during a televised draft. Captains Staal and Lidstrom were joined by their alternate captains, and they went back and forth while making 18 rounds of selections.
The obvious down side to choosing teams that way is that somebody had to be picked last.
“It’s actually a little more nerve-racking sitting down there than you would think,” said Marc Staal, Eric’s younger brother. “I would’ve went last, too, if I knew (the car and donation) was going to happen.”
Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury had it a little easier, knowing there was no chance he would be the last man taken. All goalies had to be selected by the end of the 10th round, with all defensemen off the board by the 15th.
“The other people can worry and get nervous,” Fleury said beforehand, “and I’ll sit there and relax.”
While taking care not to identify anyone by name, Eric Staal said some players did tell him they didn’t want to go last.