Kings defenseman Drew Doughty and forward Jeff Carter can expect roaring ovations when they’re introduced at the NHL All-Star game on Jan. 29 at Staples Center. But Ducks center Ryan Kesler, widely despised for his get-under-your-skin tenacity, is anticipating a different reception.
“An amazing one, I bet,” he said, knowing fans won’t shelve their hostility even when he plays alongside Doughty and Carter on the Pacific Division team.
Carter — who ranks second in the NHL with 22 goals — Doughty, Kesler and Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler were among 40 All-Star selections announced Tuesday by the NHL. The four captains were determined by fan voting. It will be Doughty’s third All-Star game and Carter’s second.
“To be able to play in our home city in front of our home fans, that will really make things special for me and my family,” Doughty said.
Competing at Staples Center also holds significance for Fowler because it was the site of the 2010 NHL entry draft, in which the Ducks chose him 12th. “You can kind of see things come full circle there,” he said.
Repeating last season’s entertaining experiment, the event will feature a three-on-three tournament in which teams from each division will meet in mini-games of two 10-minutes halves. The winners will face off in the final. The Pacific Division defeated the Central and Atlantic divisions to prevail at Nashville last January.
The coaches were determined by which team had the highest points percentage in their respective divisions as the season hit the halfway point Tuesday. They are Montreal’s Michel Therrien (Atlantic), Columbus’ John Tortorella (Metropolitan), Minnesota’s Bruce Boudreau (Central), and San Jose’s Peter DeBoer (Pacific).
The captains will be Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby (Metropolitan), Montreal goaltender Carey Price (Atlantic), Edmonton forward and NHL scoring leader Connor McDavid (Pacific) and Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban (Central). Each team will have six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies.
Many familiar names were announced Tuesday, including Crosby, who leads the NHL with 26 goals, and teammate Evgeni Malkin; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews, who’s having a subpar season but will join teammates Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford and Duncan Keith; Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, who has 999 career points, and Montreal defenseman Shea Weber, chosen for his sixth All-Star game.
Other selections reflected the NHL’s youth movement. Notable were Edmonton’s McDavid, who will be 20 on Friday, 18-year-old rookie Patrik Laine of Winnipeg, who scored 21 goals before being sidelined by a concussion, defenseman Seth Jones, 22, of the league-leading Columbus Blue Jackets, and 19-year-old forward Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He shares the rookie lead in goals with Laine and is second in points among rookies with 35.
Because all 30 teams must be represented, some worthy players were snubbed. Goalie Peter Budaj, who has saved the Kings’ season since Jonathan Quick was injured, would have been a good pick, but the Pacific goalie spots went to a deserving Martin Jones of San Jose and to Mike Smith, the Arizona Coyotes’ lone selection.
Nor was there room for Columbus forward Cam Atkinson, who reached the 20-goal mark Tuesday, or prolific Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin.
But Doughty, Carter, Kesler and Fowler were strong choices. Kesler, especially, excelled in collecting 16 goals and 35 points in 42 games and has combined with Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg to form a formidable two-way line.
Kesler, 32, considers his play vindication of the much-questioned six-year, $41.25-million contract the Ducks gave him in July of 2015.
“That gets me going,” he said. “Ever since I signed that contract, I want to prove people wrong. You try not to hear it but you hear what people say, and I think that motivates me every year to come back and prove that I’m not quote-unquote over the hill.”