RALEIGH, - The NHL changed its all-star format to give more power to the players. They largely used it to select their buddies as Team Staal and Team Lidstrom filled out their rosters in a fairly entertaining made-for-TV draft Friday night.
Eric Staal set the tone with the first overall pick, calling Carolina Hurricanes teammate Cam Ward to the stage and ensuring the fans at RBC Center will only be cheering for one team.
"I'm going to take my boy, Cam Ward," Staal said.
He also selected Hurricanes rookie Jeff Skinner and brother Marc—a defenceman for the New York Rangers—as the captains and their alternates largely stocked up on friends.
Nicklas Lidstrom used his first selection on NHL scoring leader Steven Stamkos and promptly grabbed Henrik Sedin directly after Staal drafted Daniel Sedin. It will be the first time the Vancouver Canucks twins have ever played on different teams.
"I think it's good that they have to face each other," said Lidstrom.
The last selection was used on Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel. To soften the blow, he was awarded a Honda CR-Z and $20,000—which he plans to donate to a cancer charity.
"I don't care one bit at all," said Kessel. "When I was a kid, I would never have dreamed of being here. Hopefully the fans in Toronto are happy to see me in the game. I'll play well in the game for them."
Even though the draft added a jolt of energy to the event, it remains to be seen whether it will add some spice to the game itself. A total of 17 players will be facing a teammate from their NHL squad.
Some of the players expect the weekend to be more competitive than it was in the past because of the draft.
"You'd think so, with the Sedins being split up and a couple of teammates playing against each other," said Stamkos. "The guys actually picking their teams and a little bit of thought put into it. Hopefully it leads to a more competitive game, add a little more spice with the teams picked now.
"But it'll be fun like it always is."
The players rose to the occasion in the first-ever all-star draft, showing plenty of humour throughout the live televised event. It marks a departure from the old Eastern Conference versus Western Conference format, which the league thought had grown stale.
The draft created plenty of buzz heading into the all-star weekend but didn't deliver many surprises. Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was chosen later than expected—he went 16th overall to Team Lidstrom—and said afterwards he didn't feel nervous waiting to hear his name called.
"Once we got there and sat down, the pressure was on the captains pretty much," said Toews. "Most of us just sat back and enjoyed it so it wasn't too bad."
There was some anxiety among the group.
"I've got to be honest—I was a little bit nervous for some reason," said towering Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara. "But it was fun. I think that we all had fun. It was nice to see obviously everybody had a little fun with it but also everybody was taking the business seriously, picking the right mix of players."
Ward had the shortest wait of all. Even though Staal made it known he wanted to get his goaltender, Ward was still surprised to hear his name called right out of the gate.
"This whole time, he didn't give me any hints that he was going to actually pick me," said Ward. "Luckily, I didn't have to sweat it out too bad."
The captains will continue to be called on throughout the weekend. They'll each have to set their roster for Saturday's skills competition and the teams will be named after Staal and Lidstrom for Sunday's game.
The draft experiment seemed to go well.
Lidstrom consulted with alternate captains Patrick Kane and Martin St. Louis while Staal took advice from Mike Green and Ryan Kesler—the men who will wear an 'A' for him. The draft seemed to be a pretty big hit for the players, who all wore smiles throughout the night.
"From the players standpoint, standing up there on stage, I thought it went well," said Lidstrom. "I'm sure it's tough when you're a player left with four or five guys. But for us I thought it was fun."
Don't be surprised if another draft is held before next year's game in Ottawa.
"Nobody really told us what it was going to be like so nobody really knew what to expect," said Marc Staal. "But it was well done. It was pretty cool, it was a lot of fun.
"It makes it a little moreinteresting than East and West. A little different dynamic to it. Hopefully it works out to be a good game."