OTTAWA (AP) — Phil Kessel probably won’t have to wait until the end of the NHL All-Star game draft to hear his name.
The Toronto forward was among the final 36 players added to the event by the league’s hockey operations department Thursday, joining teammates Joffrey Lupul and Dion Phaneuf for the Jan. 29 game in Ottawa.
Kessel’s participation last year in All-Star weekend is best remembered for him becoming the last selection in the inaugural draft — a somewhat embarrassing moment that included Washington star Alex Ovechkin chuckling and snapping a photo of Kessel sitting alone waiting to be picked.
“Hopefully, he’s not selected last two years in a row,” Lupul said Thursday. “But he got a car for it, so I mean it’s not all bad, right?”
Besides, no one is laughing now.
Kessel, a former University of Minnesota star, has been among the league’s most prolific players all season and entered play Thursday second overall in scoring with 48 points on 24 goals and 24 assists, two behind Vancouver forward Henrik Sedin, another All-Star selection.
In fact, the top nine scorers so far will all be in attendance, a list that includes Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin, Chicago’s Marian Hossa, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin and Ottawa’s Jason Spezza, along with Henrik Sedin, Kessel and Lupul.
The other selections include Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Corey Perry, Zdeno Chara, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Lundqvist.
“I think it means a lot,” Henrik Sedin said. “It’s one of those things I think you’re going to look back at when you’re done playing (and feel proud) that you’ve been to one or a few of those. That’s something you can tell your grandkids.”
Last year, Kessel received $20,000 for charity and a Honda CR-Z hybrid for being the last player selected in the draft that determines the game rosters.
“I’ve still got it,” he said Thursday.
A similar bounty is expected to soften the blow for the final player selected this year.
The NHL Players’ Association worked in close consultation with league executive Rob Blake on the organization of the event and players were overwhelming in favor of keeping a last man standing.
The captains and assistants in charge of selecting the squads will be announced next week. One of them is expected to be Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, who fans previously voted into the game along with teammates Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek and Spezza.
The Senators are the best represented team. The Canucks, Leafs, Bruins, Rangers and Blackhawks all have three players.
The Sedin twins are joined by Canucks teammate Alexander Edler while Calgary will be represented by Jarome Iginla, another potential choice to captain one of the teams. Montreal goalie Carey Price and Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien also will also participate.
Injuries kept Edmonton forwards Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from receiving an invite, while veteran Detroit defenseman Nick Lidstrom and Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne each asked to be overlooked.
“I’ve been there many times,” said Selanne, a 10-time All-Star. “I honestly think for the young players it’s a good opportunity.”
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