RALEIGH, – Phil Kessel had no problem with being the last man standing at the end of the NHL’s all-star draft.
The Toronto Maple Leafs forward was actually feeling pretty good after finding out he’d won a hybrid Honda CR-Z and US$20,000 for being the last of 42 all-stars to be selected on Friday night. Kessel was diagnosed with testicular cancer in December 2006 and planned to donate his money to a cancer charity.
“Something good (comes out of it),” Kessel said of being picked last. “Obviously, $20,000 to charity, that’s unbelievable. I’m real excited about that.”
He was just a 19-year-old rookie with the Boston Bruins when the cancer diagnosis came in. Kessel had to undergo surgery and ended up missing about a month.
“My first year in the league I had cancer,” said Kessel. “I got through it pretty easily and I’m healthy now. Obviously, (it was) a tough time in my life but it made me stronger.”
He is the lone representative of the Maple Leafs at the all-star game.
The draft came down to Kessel and Colorado Avalanche forward Paul Stastny, and captain Eric Staal elected to go with Stastny because he “doesn’t play in a big hockey market.” That left Kessel to captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
Instantly, Kessel’s phone exploded with text messages from teammates.
“They were all just asking about the car,” said Kessel. “They’re all on trips and stuff. I was supposed to go with a bunch of guys on vacation. They just gave me little bombs.
“They were all happy for me. We’ve got a great team in Toronto, the guy’s are all supportive and we get along great there.”
Lidstrom expects Kessel to have a little more motivation for Sunday’s all-star game. In fact, he considers Kessel a favourite to claim the MVP honours.
“He could very well win the car on Sunday,” said Lidstrom.
Former Bruins teammate Zdeno Chara thought Kessel handled it well.
“Getting a car—not a bad deal,” he said. “It’s part of the business. Someone has to be first, someone has to be last.”
Kessel seemed to take the extra attention in stride, saying he never would have dreamed as a kid that he’d be invited to the NHL’s all-star game.
He’s on pace for a third consecutive 30-goal season and plans to enjoy his time in Raleigh as much as possible.
“Honestly, it doesn’t matter,” said Kessel. “It’s an all-star game, right? You’re just happy to be here—it means you’re doing pretty well.”
As for his plans for the new car?
“I’ll drive it,” said Kessel.