Faced with the pressure of making the first overall pick in the first-ever All-Star Fantasy Draft, Eric Staal
went with what he knew best.
Staal chose Cam Ward, his long-time teammate with the Hurricanes, with his first pick in a personally successful draft that also saw him land brother Marc at No. 13 and teammate Jeff Skinner at No. 21. With Jamie McBain also joining up for the SuperSkills competition, Team Staal is assured of full support of the hometown crowd throughout All-Star Weekend.
”It’s going to be an unbelievable experience to go out on the rink and have the home crowd cheer for you the whole time,” said Ward.
Although not nearly as wide eyed as the 18-year-old Skinner has been throughout the process, the experience was also a new one for Ward, who became an All Star for the first time in his career this season. If he had any butterflies about being in the same room as the game’s veterans, one couldn’t tell from the swagger he brought to the stage after Staal’s opening pick.
“I was the best player available, I guess,” he said, shaking off the notion that Staal’s captaincy and playing for the host team had anything to do with his lofty selection.
He later clarified that he was joking, as if there was any doubt, but still expressed the need to justify his place in the draft over the next few days. He also said that his selection came as a surprise.
“(Staal) wouldn’t tell me anything about what he was going to do to before the draft,” said Ward. “He wanted me to sweat it out.”
Staal had a good poker face, as he had his mind made up all along.
“I had to win the puck toss (for the first pick), but once I managed that, that was where I wanted to go,” he said. “He would have done the same thing for me.”
Another entertaining moment came when host James Duthie interviewed the still-available Marc Staal in the crowd just before the 11th pick. Moments after Marc, a defenseman with the New York Rangers, called his brother “classless” for leaving him on the board, Eric stepped up to the podium and delivered a brilliant piece of deception.
“We select, from the New York Rangers…Henrik Lundqvist.”
All was forgiven in the next round, when Staal admitted to feeling somewhat bad for his joke and drafted his brother. Still, he gave a simple answer as to whether or not his public slight was intentional.
“Yes,” he quickly said.
|Eric pleased the home crowd when he selected Jeff Skinner to Team Staal. |
With Ward, Marc Staal and even fellow Thunder Bay native Patrick Sharp on board, all that was left for Eric Staal was to draft the rookie sensation from the locker next door. Skinner joined Team Staal in the 11th round, with the likes of Brad Richards and Corey Perry still there for the taking.
Even so, the selection may have come too late for the crowd of adoring Caniacs watching at the Raleigh Convention Center.
“They were really giving it to me every time I stepped to the podium, yelling ‘Skinner! Skinner! Skinner!’” recalled Staal. “I was thinking, ‘He’s the youngest guy here, I can’t take him this early.’”
“He didn’t say much to me, but I had a feeling he was going to pick me at some point,” said Skinner.
McBain made a clean sweep for Hurricanes on Team Staal when the Edmonton Oilers’ Taylor Hall, the first overall pick in this past summer’s NHL Entry Draft, won a puck toss and sent his group of six rookies to Team Lidstrom. That left McBain’s group, led by the San Jose Sharks’ Logan Couture, to Team Staal.
Staal was also responsible for making the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Phil Kessel the last pick in the draft, as he chose Colorado’s Paul Stastny with the penultimate pick. In exchange for the dubious honor, Kessel was awarded a car and a charity donation in his name.
Teams Staal and Lidstrom hit the ice for the SuperSkills Competition at the RBC Center on Saturday before competing in the All-Star Game the following day.