Phil Kessel, the Honda CR-Z, and a viral All-Star Game moment revisited

Pro players
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Gary Mok
Pro players
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If you only have a few minutes to spare, here's what you should know:
In 2011, Phil Kessel was the last pick of the 2011 NHL All-Star Game Fantasy Draft.
As consolation for being the last pick, Kessel was gifted a Honda CR-Z. The player and car have since trended in opposite directions.
Kessel is more than just an unwitting participant in a viral hockey moment; he's also a difference-maker and a record-setter.

Phil Kessel couldn’t help but smirk

Towards the end of the 2011 NHL All-Star Game Fantasy Draft, Kessel looked over and flashed a toothy grin at Paul Stastny.

One of them was about to have their name called and make their way to the stage. The other would remain in their seat, languishing in infamy. Stastny was stoic, the only bit of emotion betrayed by the slight nervous tapping of his foot.

But Kessel was relaxed, chuckling to himself — and only himself — when Stastny was selected with the second-last pick of the draft, leaving Kessel as the All-Star player no one else wanted.

Before his name was finally announced, the television broadcast panned to Alexander Ovechkin — long off the board at third overall — snapping a photograph on his phone of Kessel, the soon-to-be-punchline sitting alone.

The joke didn’t last long though. Soon after donning his Team Lidstrom jersey as pick No. 36, Kessel was gifted $20,000 USD to donate to a charity of his choice and a brand-new hybrid Honda CR-Z.

“$20,000 to charity, that’s unbelievable,” Kessel told assembled media afterwards. “I’m real excited about that.” He noted how he planned to donate the money to a cancer charity, a cause closely connected to his own cancer diagnosis and subsequent recovery during his rookie NHL season.

And as for the car?

“I’ll drive it,” he said.

Kessel and the CR-Z are forever linked in this viral off-ice moment, but they’ve also since gone their separate ways.


Getty/Bruce Bennett
RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 30: (EDITORS NOTE: A special effects camera filter was used for this image.) Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs poses for a portrait before the 58th NHL All-Star Game at RBC Center on January 30, 2011 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Team Lidstrom ended up winning the All-Star Game 11-10 over Team Staal before Kessel returned to the Toronto Maple Leafs and wrapped up his third consecutive 30-goal campaign.

The Leafs missed the playoffs that season, just like they did for all but one of Kessel’s years there.

Kessel became a popular scapegoat for the team’s struggles: he led the Leafs in scoring every season he was a member, but that only served to make him an easy target for fan and media ire. He was cast as an empty-calories scorer who lacked the “heart” to develop a winning mentality.

Eventually, Kessel would discard that false narrative when a 2015 trade sent him to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he made an immediate impact.

The Penguins promptly won back-to-back Stanley Cups, the first of which saw Kessel lead the team in playoff points, ahead of superstar teammates Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He had emerged as not only a champion, but a difference-maker.

And this past fall, as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, Kessel set the record for most consecutive regular season NHL games played, breaking Keith Yandle’s previous record of 989 games.

In addition to the Cups and the records, Kessel also shed the label of being rejected at the NHL All-Star Game Fantasy Draft.

One year after he won the CR-Z, he was an All-Star again and selected 15th overall by Team Chara. And in 2015, his third and final All-Star Game appearance, he was chosen with the second overall pick by Team Toews.

That year was also the final time the fantasy draft format appeared in the All-Star Game. For several reasons, the NHL All-Star Game Fantasy Draft – and the storylines that came from it – has since been relegated to history.

But it’s not the only thing from that viral 2011 moment lost to the history books.


Phil Kessel (Photo credit: Gregory Shamus, GETTY IMAGES)

The Honda CR-Z was ahead of its time

Rolling off the assembly line in 2010, the hybrid sports car was a spiritual successor to Honda’s cult-classic CR-X that promised to be much more environmentally friendly.

Honda’s new hatchback saw its US sales peak in 2011, the same year it was gifted to Kessel. But it was discontinued in 2016, when it made up less than 3,000 units out of Honda’s 1.4 million cars sold to Americans that year.

With hybrid sports cars much more popular now, Stephen Ottley, an award-winning journalist at Cars Guide, thinks the CR-Z “was just the right car at the wrong time.”

Though it won a prestigious JIDPO Good Design Award and was named Japan’s Car of the Year when first released, it had failed to gain enough traction with the car-buying public.

The distaste for Honda’s hybrid hatchback back then mirrored many people’s opinion of Kessel’s time in Toronto. If he had stayed with the Leafs, it’s possible Kessel would have remained a right player on the wrong team — a winner made to feel less so simply by association with a losing squad.

There was some good fortune that came out of Kessel being the last pick in 2011, but even more good fortune when he later landed on a Pittsburgh team that was crying out for a star winger to put them over the top.

Kessel’s winding path had found an optimal destination.


Depending on who or where you ask, the name Phil Kessel may stand for different things: a punchline, a tragic hero, a missing piece, a Stanley Cup champion, a brother, a record-setter. These would all be correct; they would also be incomplete.

Because for one specific Honda CR-Z, Kessel was also an owner, a driver and an unwitting partner in a viral hockey moment.

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