It was 10 minutes till 10 on a Thursday night. The best team in the National Hockey League had just lost 1-0 to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

One of the NHL’s premier two-way forwards stood in front of three reporters. He had a Superman logo tattooed on his right arm — the ‘S’ inside the shield was replaced by a ‘K.’

On a roster populated by stars, Ryan Kesler may be the Vancouver Canucks’ most indispensable player.

Routinely a leading candidate to win the Selke Trophy, Kesler — who will play in his first-ever NHL All-Star Game on Sunday in Raleigh, N.C. — has 27 goals and 20 assists for 47 points this year.

It’s been a great individual season by any measurable standard for the All-Star. Did he think this was possible?

“Sure,” Kesler said. “Every year I strive to get better. This year is no different. I think I’ve improved every year offensively since I’ve been in the league so it doesn’t surprise me at all.”

Kesler will be an alternate captain on Team Staal in Sunday’s game. He’s joined by captain Eric Staal of the hometown Carolina Hurricanes and defenseman Mike Green of the Washington Capitals.

Feeling a draft

The NHL is picking teams for Sunday’s 2011 All-Star Game in a playground style fantasy draft Friday night (8 p.m., VERSUS). Eric Staal and Nick Lidstrom are the captains. Twelve rookies, including Tyler Seguin, will compete in the skills competition Saturday.

The first pick will be decided by a coin toss. Goalies must be picked by the end of the 10th round; defensemen must go by the end of the 15th.

You have to assume Alex Ovechkin will go first overall, regardless of who has the pick. Cam Ward, the goalie for the hometown Carolina Hurricanes, will surely be a hot item. Rangers D Marc Staal should end up on his brother’s team. Other than him, nobody cares about defensemen.

Tampa Bay C Steven Stamkos leads the NHL with 67 points at the break. Sidney Crosby, who will not play, is second with 66.

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