With Eric Staal
and Nicklas Lidstrom set to take the stage during tonight’s All-Star Fantasy Draft at the Raleigh Convention Center (8 p.m., VERSUS), here are some early storylines to consider as the captains enter uncharted territory under the NHL’s new format.
1. TAKING CARE OF TEAMMATES
In sharp contrast to rival captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who as the only Red Wings representative in town doesn’t have to worry about pleasing his regular coworkers, Staal has two Hurricanes in the player pool. He obviously wants Jeff Skinner
and Cam Ward
on his team, as does the local fan base, but he’ll need to figure out where to draft them.
One would imagine that Lidstrom would be respectful of that and avoid Hurricanes with his picks, despite saying that he may choose Ward to get the crowd partially on his side. Does that mean Staal can afford to wait with the knowledge that he can take them later? While that may be a wise draft strategy, how would Skinner and Ward feel about slipping down the board?
2. BROTHERLY LOVE?
As if two teammates weren't enough, Staal has is own flesh and blood to worry about. Although one of the game’s best shutdown defensemen, Marc Staal will not necessarily help you win an All-Star game with his individual skills, suggesting that he may be chosen late. Will his relationship with Eric change that? Based on the Staal brothers’ willingness to take good-natured jabs at each other in interviews, one expects that Eric would be more willing to let Marc fall farther than Skinner and Ward, but how far, exactly?
3. POSITIONAL QUIRKS
Let’s face it – they’re the best in the world at their positions just like everyone else in the draft, but All-Star teams aren’t built around defense and goaltending. That’s where positional guidelines come in. So that the final rounds aren’t a foregone conclusion as teams fill positional needs, all goalies must be taken by the end of Round 10 and all defensemen taken by Round 15.
That’s good news for Ward, ensuring that he’ll be taken relatively early regardless. It should also help Marc Staal, as a forward is guaranteed to be picked last. However, it’s just one more thing to worry about for Eric Staal as he attempt to juggle his preferences with the balance of his roster.
4. ROOKIE HAZING
No matter how highly touted they are, rookies rarely get preferential treatment during their first days in the NHL. Will that hold up in an All-Star situation?
As a Western Conference player who has not yet faced Skinner, Lidstrom probably won’t be in a huge rush to take the rookie who appears to be 15 years old. One of his assistants, Southeast Division veteran Martin St. Louis, may be able to put in a good word, but Skinner probably isn’t joining Team Lidstrom in the early rounds.
That could leave Staal to decide his fate as he juggles his Hurricanes responsibilities against potentially leaving a five-time All-Star sitting in the crowd in favor of someone who was playing junior hockey as recently as last season. For his part, Skinner has said that he wouldn’t mind being the last player picked, so Staal won’t have to be concerned about potentially embarassing the 18-year-old. Which brings us to…
5. WHO WILL BE LAST PICKED?
The title of “Mr. Irrelevant” doesn’t hold up in an All-Star setting, but there will be one player – a forward, due to the positional guidelines – that will carry the dubious honor of the last player chosen.
In a handful of mock drafts that have been conducted recently, Toronto’s Phil Kessel and Colorado’s Paul Stastny make the most frequent appearances in the bottom pair as relatively young players with no obvious ties to the captains or any of their alternates. The Avalanche’s Matt Duchene, a second-year player in his first All-Star Game, fits that mold, as does St. Louis’ David Backes. Depending on how much feedback captains take from their drafted players once they join them on the stage, one Avalanche player could help another.
As the New Jersey Devils’ lone representative in a down year, Patrik Elias makes a few appearances late in mock drafts, but we’re doubtful that a veteran player would be allowed to fall so far. Last-minute replacement Martin Havlat could also be a candidate (although he played with Lidstrom alternate Patrick Kane in Chicago).
The pick will likely come down to which player the captains feel can best handle the scrutiny, rather than which one they feel is the better player.
The allocation of the coaching staffs, which will supposedly be decided by a coin flip tonight. Will Peter Laviolette be reunited with Ward and Staal?
The allocation of the rookies, who will be divided into two groups of six, with one represenative choosing which team to join. Will Jamie McBain be able to join Team Staal and potentially keep all four Hurricanes together?