NHL All-Star Game draft notebook

GATINEAU, Quebec -- Tim Thomas would rather focus on the NHL All-Star Game, but the controversy surrounding his decision to skip the Bruins' visit Monday to the White House has followed him to Ottawa.

Following the NHL’s All-Star draft Thursday night, Thomas met briefly with the media and was asked about the reaction that followed his decision, including that of his teammates.

“They’ve given me their full and unwavering support, and I really appreciate that,” he said.

He declined to comment on another question with a firm "No comment," but paused for a long moment when he was asked whether avoiding the issue altogether only fuels the debate.

“I did address it,” he said. “Everything I said in my statement was what I believe to be the absolute truth. I don’t believe I need to revisit something I stated so clearly.”

-- Craig Custance

Datsyuk Thrilled To Be No. 1

Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk was perfectly content going last in the fantasy draft. "I want the car," he said last weekend.

But it was quite the opposite. Zdeno Chara made Datsyuk the first overall pick, bypassing teammates and fellow countrymen. Chara was going strictly on talent and production. One of the game's elite two-way players, Datsyuk has surged toward the top of the points race with 53 points in 49 games.

The honor of going first trumped winning a new car. Plus, it was a Honda, which probably wouldn't have gone over well in Detroit anyway.

"I'm just more happy. Surprised," Datsyuk told ESPN.com. "A car is a car but I want to be first, too."

He said he's excited to be reunited with former teammate Marian Hossa as well as fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin.

"I don't play with Russian for a long time, same team," he said. "Now it's a chance. Who knows? We play good and Ken Holland see, [maybe he'll] bring in a Russian guy."

-- Craig Custance

Couture Goes Last

One wouldn’t know by looking at San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture after the draft that he had gone last overall.

You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.

"Being the young guy here and playing on the West Coast, I knew it was a possibility," he said.

Hey, he got a car, right?

"A lot of my friends and my brother are blowing up my phone asking if they can have the car," Couture said, laughing.

Sharks captain Joe Thornton was among the callers. We also texted Thornton after the draft to ask him for his reaction to young Mr. Couture going last.

"Love it, his family will love the new car!" Thornton told ESPN.com.

-- Pierre LeBrun

Kessel Not Last

Tyler Seguin would have been an ironic last overall pick a year after Phil Kessel was, given their forever link to The Trade.

Just don’t tell Kessel that.

"I didn’t think about that until you just said that right now,’’ Kessel insisted afterward.

Really? Not sure we believe that one.

There was no car for Kessel this year, with the Leafs sniper going 15th overall. Although he keeps insisting he doesn’t care.

"Anything would have been fine," Kessel said, shrugging. "It’s an honor to be here. It’s not a big deal at all [to go last]. It doesn’t matter."

Any Maple Leafs reference got booed mercilessly Thursday night by rival Ottawa fans, so much that Kessel was taken off guard by it.

"I didn’t realize it was that bad, to tell you truth," Kessel said of the Senators fans’ venom for the Leafs. "When we play here, there’s a lot of Leaf fans at the games ... but we’re looking to have a good time here this weekend."

-- Pierre LeBrun

That Ol' Softie Zdeno

Zdeno Chara might be among the most imposing of players in the NHL but he definitely has a soft spot or at the very least a strong sense of fair play. Even though it was obvious Chara’s counterpart and former Ottawa Senators teammate Daniel Alfredsson was trying to corner the market on Senators in the draft, Chara allowed that to happen without disrupting the natural order of things by stealing a Milan Michalek or Jason Spezza.

"I think it’s fair enough to have the team guys kind of together especially, you know, for Ottawa fans and people in Ottawa. When they could have their home team players on the same team, I think it just makes it very special for them. Obviously, I didn’t want to interfere with that, and respect that," he said.

-- Scott Burnside

Campbell Close To Home

Lots of familiar faces for Florida Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell this weekend in somewhat familiar surroundings. Campbell played his junior hockey in Ottawa, skating on the Rideau Canal during his leisure time, and he has a dozen family members either in town already or en route.

His inclusion in this All-Star weekend, his fourth All-Star appearance, reinforces Campbell’s decision to agree to a trade from Chicago, where he won a Stanley Cup, to the Florida Panthers last summer. Campbell is second in the NHL behind Erik Karlsson in scoring among defensemen and is the lone Panthers representative here. But he did hook up with former Hawks teammates Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa.

"I think you’re always worried when you move to a different team and a different city, but for myself personally, it was the best decision," Campbell said.

He noted that he is getting a chance in Florida to showcase his skills in a way that perhaps he wasn’t able to do in Chicago. Still, he was quick to reinforce his feelings about his time in Chicago and specifically playing for coach Joel Quenneville.

"I loved my time in Chicago," he said. "The organization was great, and Joel, I learned a ton from Joel about how to play the game. Now that’s the past, and [you] take a lot of good things out of Chicago and you move forward."

As for the curious route of leaving the warmth of South Florida for the chill of an Ottawa winter during the break, Campbell is OK with that.

"There’s lots of time for the beach and all that. I know the boys are having fun I’m sure somewhere wherever they are, but I’m happy to be here," Campbell said.

-- Scott Burnside

Home Game For Perry

Corey Perry is actually from Peterborough, Ontario, but he has family and friends who live here in Ottawa, so this is an NHL homecoming of sorts.

"I’ve got a lot of cousins here; my dad’s side pretty much lives in Ottawa," the reigning Hart trophy winner said after the draft. "It’s going to be a fun weekend."

-- Pierre LeBrun

Ottawa Is Living Large

No doubt the Ottawa region and the Senators would have been pumped to host the All-Star weekend, but let’s be honest, it wouldn’t have the oomph this weekend stands to have if the team had been languishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings as most believed it would be.

Instead, the surprising Senators hit the break in sixth place in the conference and looking forward to the final 30 games of the regular season.

"We’re looking forward to a lot of divisional games, a lot of important hockey games, and last year at this point of the year, we didn’t have important hockey games, so we’re excited to have important hockey games coming into this part of the season," Senators center Jason Spezza said Thursday.

And the team’s play has sure made taking part in the weekend’s celebrations more palatable for him and his teammates.

"Yeah, I think so," Spezza said. "We feel like we’re here on merit and because the team’s played well. You want to be a part of something like this but it’s nice when you’re having a good year and things are going well up to this point. Our fans are excited; we’re excited about it. I think because the club’s played good hockey, everybody’s really excited about hockey right now, and this is really just icing on the cake on it at this point."

As for teammate Erik Karlsson, with whom Spezza sat before being selected by teammate Daniel Alfredsson, Spezza agreed that no one seemed to be having as much fun as the young defenseman, who leads all NHL defensemen in points with 47.

"Erik’s a great kid. He’s a real light-hearted guy. I think the more and more people get to know him, the more and more they’re going to like him. He’s a confident kid that believes in himself and he’s a heck of a hockey player and he’s a great guy in the dressing room," Spezza said.

-- Scott Burnside

Benn's Scare

Dallas Stars center Jamie Benn won’t lie. He was sweating it just a little when it was down to him and Sharks center Logan Couture. But he insisted he was also having fun with it.

"A little bit of both," Benn said after Friday night’s All-Star draft. "We knew it would come down to the wire. It doesn’t matter. We’re all here to have a good weekend, and we might as well have fun with it."

You might argue being picked second to last is the worst possible outcome because there’s no car as a prize, right?

"Well, it was a little bit of a win-win before those final two picks, either picked or get a car," Benn said, laughing. "I’m happy I got picked."

Benn was activated from the Stars' injured reserve just before the All-Star weekend. We asked him whether he put a little friendly pressure on Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk to do that.

"A little bit, yeah," Benn said, smiling. "He was nice enough to let me come here. He wanted me to come here; it’s a good experience for a young guy like me."

-- Pierre LeBrun

Kane Caught On Tape

It wouldn’t be an event without Patrick Kane making things interesting.

"That blonde’s unbelievable," Kane was caught saying on the telecast.

"It was a little blonde kid in front; that’s all I was talking about," a smiling Kane insisted afterward, in no way convincing any of the media on hand.

"I can’t believe they put that on," Kane said, knowing he was busted. "No more mic'ed up for TSN."

-- Pierre LeBrun