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Blackhawks Sat Jan 29 2011

First NHL All-Star Draft Lives Up to the Hype

nhl asg.jpgAs a concept, last night's player draft for the NHL All-Star Game was born out of childhood pickup games and the explosive popularity of fantasy sports. In the execution, the NHL found a way to take a weekend often overlooked by the average sports fan and inject a little more buzz and excitement, giving the players a chance to show some personality and sell themselves (and the game) just a little bit.

Was it a cheesy gimmick and stilted at times? Sure, but it also kept hockey fans talking the past few weeks and captured the imagination of people outside their normal viewing audience. Overall, it has to be considered a success.

So here's some thoughts on the draft picks and the Versus broadcast of the draft. I'm all for Team Lidstrom, and not just for the Hawks-heavy roster. They did a great job of building a team with lots of skilled players who have played together for team or country. Sunday's game should be great to watch with some of those combos.

All-Star Rosters | Round-by-Round Draft Results

• First things first: The Blackhawks ended up with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith all on Team Lidstrom, along with former Hawks Dustin Byfuglien and Martin Havlat. Patrick Sharp will be the lone Chicago representative on Team Staal, getting picked by Eric Staal because they both live and train in Thunder Bay, Ontario, in the offseason. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville and assistant Mike Haviland will be behind the bench for Team Staal as well.

• Speaking of Toews, in the weeks leading up to the draft, the speculation that he'd be named captain and Kane named an alternate led to a lot of good-natured back and forth between the two players about not picking each other. And in fact, Toews wound up the last Hawk picked, 18th overall. To add to that trash talk, Kane was caught on mic coming back from commercial saying he wanted to make Toews sweat it out a little more and got a few extra digs in when saying he was picking "his boy" from the Blackhawks before selecting Keith.

However, it also seemed that Captain Serious was getting a little more upset as the draft wore on before Kane picked him. Note to Jonathan: It's supposed to be fun, smile a little. Though Toews did seem to enjoy saying that Kane must have swallowed his pride but that Lidstrom and alternate Martin St. Louis made a good pick, giving Kane no credit in his selection.

• Another amusing moment was Marc Staal of the Rangers, passed over by his brother, saying in an interview there would be no more Christmas or birthday presents. Eric Staal followed that up by selecting, from the New York Rangers ... Henrik Lundqvist. He paused for a moment to tweak his kid brother all the more, but did end up picking him in the next round.

• Identical twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin of the Canucks will be on opposing teams for the first time in their hockey careers, a matchup most fans have long been waiting to see. Several players laughed when the twins were drafted by Staal and Lidstrom, respectively, with the fifth and sixth picks. Expect to see them face off a lot in tomorrow's game.

• The last round of the draft came down to Paul Statsny of the Avalanche and Phil Kessel of the Maple Leafs, with Staal selecting Statsny and joking that Toronto wasn't much of a hockey town. Kessel was left sitting alone as Mr. Irrelevant, to the joy of Alexander Ovechkin, who snapped a shot of the lonesome Kessel with his cell phone. Of course, it wasn't all bad news: Kessel won the consolation prize of a new car and $20,000 to donate to his favorite charity -- and he's still an NHL all-star.

• While the concept was great, the Versus broadcast needs some tweaking if the NHL is going to continue down this road. The panel of talking heads analyzing the draft every few picks was way too serious and full of themselves, and host James Duthie of TSN had a hard time connecting with the players during interviews and came off like a bad Seth Meyers impersonator.

Overall, while not great TV, the draft seemed to have its intended effect in getting the NHL some extra attention during its mid-season grind, when most sports fans are focused on the Super Bowl and the start of spring training. And in the end, for hockey fans, it was a fun way to spend a Friday night. Here's hoping tomorrow's game (3 p.m. on Versus) lives up to the hype as well.

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