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Kessel Final Pick In All-Star Draft

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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RALEIGH, N.C. -- 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 draft debut 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-V 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.''

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.

Ward had the shortest wait of all. Even though Staal made it known he wanted to get his goaltender, Ward was surprised to hear his name called.

``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.''

Even though the draft added a jolt of energy to the event, it remains to be seen whether it will add much spice to the game itself. The skills competition goes Saturday while the all-star game is to be played Sunday.

Some of the players expect the weekend to be more competitive than the past.

``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.''

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