• Logo courtesy NHL

Team captain Eric Staal won the inaugural puck flip at the first-ever All-Star Fantasy Draft and picked his teammate and goaltender Cam Ward first overall, to raucous cheers from the partisan crowd. Interviewed live at the podium, Ward didn’t miss a beat, quipping “I was the best player available, I guess.”

Other notable moments included twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin, teammates in Vancouver, being split up with consecutive choices in the third round; Steven Stamkos being drafted number one by Nicklas Lidstrom’s team over Alexander Ovechkin (who Staal nabbed immediately); Chicago’s Patrick Kane, as Team Lidstrom’s alternate captain, snubbing linemate Jonathan Toews for several rounds; and Lidstrom’s selection of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, whose last-second save against him in the seventh game of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals preserved Pittsburgh’s win; and, of course the unpleasant last-guy-picked laurel being placed on Maple Leaf Phil Kessel’s head. Full results are at the end of this post.

Eric Staal drafted teammates Jeff Skinner and Cam Ward.

Staal was able to keep his houses in order, picking his brother, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, in the seventh round and Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner in the eleventh. But not without a little bit of brotherly ribbing along the way.

In the sixth round, Staal leaned down to the microphone and said “With our next pick we select, from the New York Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist.” The little hesitation before “Henrik” drew the largest laughs of the night.

“It was a great opportunity. It was exciting to say ‘the New York Rangers’ and say the name ‘Lundqvist’ next and make him wait a little bit longer. But it worked out and I ended up getting him right after that,” Eric chuckled afterward.

Marc appreciated the joke: “That probably pissed me off more than sitting there more—Hank going before me. No, it was funny. It was a good one by him.”

The moment offered some fun insight into the Thunder Bay, Ontario hockey family that will be spoken about for as long as guys lace up skates. If Eric hadn’t have drafted Marc, what would Mom think?

“I actually asked my mom this afternoon and she said she didn’t care,” Marc smiled. “I think she’s pretty excited we’re on the same team now and we’re looking forward to a fun weekend.” Eric added, “She probably wouldn’t have cared, but I wouldn’t have wanted to take any slashes if he was on the other team. He does it enough when we play against him during the regular season.

“I made him sweat a little bit, which was nice. And then ended up being able to get him after. It was fun taking a jab at him and making him sweat a little bit.”

Both brothers enjoyed talking about the Staal family closeness and the rare opportunity the All-Star weekend is affording them to be all together during the season. “All of us brothers are very close. We talk a lot during the season. We talk a lot off the ice, and this is an enjoyable weekend to experience together and now we get to do it on the same team,” Eric said.

Marc and Eric don’t have as much of a history playing together as one might think. “It was always Eric and Jared versus me and Jordan, every time,” Marc reminisced. “We had the teams pre-set before we went out. We always loved playing against each other.” Jordan is a star forward with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Jared is a winger with the Florida Everblades in the Hurricanes’ farm organization.

Every face had a smile on it, this night. Ward enjoyed being selected first, but also had the perspective that the entire weekend really had nothing at stake. “It is really special, but at the same time, it is a fantasy draft. It’s not like I can use this in my contract negotiations next time go round. But it’s a lot of fun. This is my first NHL All-Star Game and I’m really honored to be here. To be able to go number one, and to be able to play with my good friend Eric Staal, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

“You saw guys gradually starting to sweat a bit more. These guys have got a lot of pride, too. But you can’t really go wrong with who you’re going to select. You can’t take it to heart if you’re going to be one of the last guys because everybody in there is and All-Star so they should be proud of that,” Ward added.

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury impersonated teammate Kris Letang.

The NHL staged this event as much as it could, partly to fit it into a 90-minute television slot and partly because it’s used to being as publicly robotic as a NASCAR driver on victory lane (“I just want to thank my sponsor Viagra, my team owner, and God, in that order”). But some delightful spontaneity and legitimate drama—even if largely facetious—came through.

The organizers’ paramount hope was that the personalities of the players would shine in this event. The players didn’t disappoint.

Fleury, noted for his goofiness, came down the press line afterward with Penguins teammate Kris Letang’s name card in his jacket pocket. “I am a little bit scared to go shoot on Fleury. He’s got some good moves,” he giggled.

Leading up to the game, conversation was dominated by Sidney Crosby’s absence due to a concussion, and Washington Capitals star Ovechkin was gallant when asked about it. “I’ve said before, it’s pretty tough when the greatest player in the world didn’t make it.” Ovechkin added that he liked being in Raleigh: “I think that Carolina is a good city for me. I was drafted here number one. I’ll probably go number four or five.” He went third overall.

Ovechkin’s favorite part about All-Star weekend? “You know. See lots of people. Good-looking girls. It’s nice.”

The Sedin twins will go head to head for a change in Sundays All-Star game.

Peter Laviolette, who will coach one of the All-Star teams, was enjoying being back in the city he brought a Stanley Cup title to in 2006. But he wasn’t wearing his ring.

“No stress. Hockey with no stress. I’m a big fan of this,” he laughed. “I’ve never been here before so I’d think that probably I’ll just call out the lines and they’ll go out and do great things. I’m sure it’ll be a lot of fun. You get to see players from the other bench, in the other color than your color on the ice. And you only appreciate them as a hockey player. I saw Dustin Byfuglien last night and talked to him for a little bit. I met Nick Lidstrom today—I’d never met him before. He’s just a nice guy but you don’t get to realize the personal side of things. It’s always business. That’s what’s kind of neat about this event from my standpoint anyway is that I get to just meet some of the guys and talk to them.”

Laviolette added a note of respect to Skinner: “He’s certainly very talented. He likes to score goals. He’s pretty good at it.”

By the end of the evening, it was obvious that the NHL’s decision to change up the format to a fantasy draft had been a real success. The players had a great time, and the cameras and microphones captured that.

“From the players side, I think it worked,” Lidstrom said. “I thought it was something different. I thought it was fun. I’m sure the last few guys were sweating it at the end there, not knowing who’s the last guy to get picked. Overall I thought the players enjoyed it.”

“Tonight was good for fans,” Daniel Sedin noted. “Usually the days leading up to the All-Star Game are a little bit quiet. But now today, I think a lot of people—media, fans—were talking about this draft so I think it was a good thing.”

2011 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft Results

Captain: Eric Staal, F, HurricanesCaptain: Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Red Wings
Alt. Captain: Mike Green, D, CapitalsAlt. Captain: Patrick Kane, F, Blackhawks
Alt. Captain: Ryan Kesler, F, CanucksAlt. Captain: Martin St. Louis, F, Lightning
1. Cam Ward, G, Huricanes2. Steven Stamkos, F, Lightning
3. Alexander Ovechkin, F, Capitals4. Duncan Keith, D, Blackhawks
5. Daniel Sedin, F, Canucks6. Henrik Sedin, F. Canucks
7. Zdeno Chara, D. Bruins8. Shea Weber, D. Predators
9. Rick Nash, F, Blue Jackets10. Tim Thomas, G, Bruins
11. Henrik Lundqvist, G, Rangers12. Danny Briere, F, Flyers
13. Marc Staal, F, Rangers14. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Thrashers
15. Patrick Sharp, F, Blackhawks16. Jonathan Toews, F, Blackhawks
17. Dan Boyle, D, Sharks18. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Penguins
19. Carey Price, G, Canadiens20. Jonas Hiller, G, Ducks
21. Jeff Skinner, F, Hurricanes22. Brad Richards, F, Stars
23. Kris Letang, D, Penguins24. Keith Yandle, D, Coyotes
25. Claude Giroux, F, Flyers26. Brent Burns, D, Wild
27. Erik Karlsson, D, Senators28. Martin Havlat, F, Wild
29. Corey Perry, F, Ducks30. Anze Kopitar, F, Kings
31. Patrik Elias, F, Devils32. Matt Duchene, F, Avalanche
33. David Backes, F, Blues34. Loui Ericsson, F, Stars
35. Petr Stastny, F, Avanlanche36. Phil Kessel, F, Maple Leafs