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Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel carries the puck against the Boston Bruins at the Air Canada Centre. (Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE/US PRESSWIRE)
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel carries the puck against the Boston Bruins at the Air Canada Centre. (Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE/US PRESSWIRE)

ERIC DUHATSCHEK

No shame in being last man standing at all-star draft Add to ...

In the days leading up to the NHL all-star game last year, the first time the players were chosen in fantasy draft fashion, there was much hand-wringing over who might be picked last – and how that snub might affect his all-star experience.

Then Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs was picked last. For the dubious distinction, he received a car and a donation to his favourite charity. Now, suddenly, there is no stigma attached to being last – and maybe even a little cachet. Last weekend, Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk, who could be the best player in the NHL right now, ventured it would be okay with him if he were the last man sitting, as long as there was a shiny new vehicle waiting at the end of the auditorium.

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Sorry Pavel.

Ottawa Senators veteran Daniel Alfredsson, along with former teammate Zdeno Chara, is in charge of picking the teams Thursday, as all-star festivities get under way in Ottawa.

Even if Alfredsson is not tipping his hand about strategy, one thing’s for sure.

“Datsyuk’s not going to be last,” Alfredsson said. “I can guarantee you that.”

This is all a new experience for Alfredsson, who wasn’t paying close attention last year when his old friend, Nicklas Lidstrom of the Red Wings, along with the hometown all-star Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes, were the two captains involved in the first fantasy draft, which created enough of a sensation that the NHL brought it back again this year. Once Alfredsson was chosen as captain, he went onto the Internet to research how it unfolded, what to expect, and how to prepare.

“I read how Lidstrom was going to talk to [Red Wings general manager]Kenny Holland and get some input,” Alfredsson said. “It’s nice to have some assistants, too – I know Henrik [Lundqvist, the New York Rangers’ goalie]is going to be on my side, and that’s going to help a lot.

“But I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and it brings a little more competitiveness to the whole thing.”

One of the favourite fantasy-draft threads last year was what to do with the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, who have played together their entire careers. Most wanted to see them separated, just to see how that would work, and both Sedins were good sports when it actually happened, engaging in a little bit of manufactured trash talk, drummed up by TSN host James Duthie.

The Sedins will be a focal point again this year because of the Vancouver Canucks’ current red-hot rivalry with the Boston Bruins. Would Chara, the Bruins’ captain, ever pick a Sedin for his team? Would Alfredsson, a fellow Swede and a fellow Olympian, ever permit a Sedin to go to the opposition? We’ll see. In some ways, the draft last year was the highlight of the all-star proceedings, exceeding the game, the skills competition, and all the off-ice chatter for drama and thrills. In a year, 2012, when no-shows and injury withdrawals will have a whole lot of first-year all-stars in place, it may happen that way again.

One player who likely won’t last until the end either is Jason Spezza, Alfredsson’s teammate. Last year, Staal went heavy on the hometown choices when the game was in Raleigh, picking his brother Marc early as well as his Hurricanes’ teammate Cam Ward. So no car probably for Spezza, if Alfredsson does the same.

“Everybody says they want that [to be last]now,” Spezza said. “I think the first time it was a shock; now it’s on everybody’s mind. But I think it’s a fun thing, too, and it’s something the fans have really taken to.

“As players, it’s something you shrug off. You’re in the all-star game. You’re having a pretty good year, so I don’t think you should worry about who’s picked last and who isn’t. Everybody’s a pretty good player here.”

And just for that reason, Alfredsson isn’t worried about hurting anybody’s feelings, no matter who ends up sitting there alone, at the end.

“Everybody knows what’s going on and somebody has to be last,” Alfredsson said. “Usually what happens is, it’s going to be one of the younger guys. That’s just the way it is. I don’t feel bad. It has to be somebody.”

It has to be somebody, even if it won’t be that Russian fellow from Detroit. Chances are pretty good that Datsyuk will the first man standing, not the last one sitting.

Follow on Twitter: @eduhatschek

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