As bland as the All-Star Game has become in the past few years — which will hopefully be remedied by the 3-on-3 tournament this season — the skills competition has always been able to produce a few outstanding moments. This skills competition should be no different.
Friday afternoon, with the all-stars assembled in Nashville ahead of the weekend’s events, the four divisional captains announced their official lineups for the skills competition events. For the Western Conference teams, the lineups were chosen by Central Division captain Patrick Kane, who is representing the Chicago Blackhawks, and Pacific Division captain John Scott, currently a member of the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps. The Eastern Conference participants were selected by Atlantic Division captain Jaromir Jagr, the veteran Florida Panthers winger, and Metropolitan Division captain John Tavares, who also serves as captain of the New York Islanders.
Here are the events, and a few notes on who could take home the event crowns:
Western Conference: Roman Josi, Matt Duchene, Taylor Hall, Dustin Byfuglien
Eastern Conference: Dylan Larkin, Brandon Saad, Erik Karlsson, Kris Letang
Notes: We’re not sure what the two skater matchups for this event are going to be, but, barring a blow out, the favorite has to be the rookie Larkin. He has shown his explosive speed this season on a number of occasions, most notably when he flew past Karlsson in game action. Taylor Hall might give him a run, though. Of course, fans will be rooting for Byfuglien as the sleeper.
Points Available: Six. Per the NHL, “The winner of each match-up scores one point; the team with the fastest skater scores a bonus point; if the fastest skater is successful in breaking Mike Gartner's record an additional bonus point will be awarded.”
Prediction: Larkin wins and comes close to breaking Mike Gartner’s record.
Shooters: James Neal, Matt Duchene, Brent Burns
Goaltender: Jonathan Quick
Shooters: Brandon Saad, Evgeny Kuznetsov, P.K. Subban
Goaltender: Cory Schneider
Notes: Duchene’s hands are incredible, but one can’t help but feel the ever-lovable and extremely bearded Burns has to have something up his sleeves for this one. Maybe he trims his beard on-ice before taking a shot. We doubt it, but you never know. The Eastern Conference favorites have to be Kuznetsov and Subban. Who wouldn’t love a Burns-Subban showdown for the crown?
Points Available: One. Whoever scores the highest gets the point.
Prediction: Kuznetsov wows in his first appearance in the skills competition and picks up the win.
Western Conference: Patrick Kane, Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry, Jamie Benn
Eastern Conference: John Tavares, Patrice Bergeron, Claude Giroux, Evgeni Malkin
Notes: There hasn’t been changes made to this event in forever and there doesn’t need to be. It’s always a fun one. All eyes will be on Kane, but Pavelski, who has been one of the best goal scorers in the past three seasons, could be a sleeper. Bergeron’s name doesn’t immediately pop, but he could channel his inner Ray Bourque and win the event. Players will shoot head-to-head.
Points Available: Five. One point to each head-to-head winner, plus a bonus point to the player who hits all four in the fastest time.
Prediction: Bergeron is patient and lethal, taking down all four targets in the fastest time.
Western Conference: Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Seguin, John Scott, Shea Weber
Eastern Conference: Aaron Ekblad, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, P.K. Subban
Notes: Weber is trying to defend his crown and he’s likely to come through. Fans are going to be pulling for Scott, though, and it’d be great to see him come close to winning the event. All it takes is one well-placed blast to put up a good time. Maybe he has it in him.
Points Available: Five. Like accuracy shooting, the winner of each head-to-head gets a point. The bonus point to the team with the winner of the event.
Prediction: Winner, and still your hardest shot champion, Shea Weber. The hometown fans will like that one.
SKILLS CHALLENGE RELAY
One-timers: Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Corey Perry
Mini-net passer: Daniel Sedin
Puck control relay: Johnny Gaudreau
Stick Handling: Patrick Kane
Goalie Goals: Pekka Rinne
One-timers: Mark Giordano, James Neal, Vladimir Tarasenko
Mini-net passer: Jamie Benn
Puck Control relay: Roman Josi
Stick handling: Tyler Seguin
Goalie Goals: Devan Dubnyk
One-timers: Aaron Ekblad, Erik Karlsson, Steven Stamkos
Mini-net passer: Nicklas Backstrom
Puck control relay: Justin Faulk
Stick Handling: Claude Giroux
Goalie Goals: Braden Holtby
One-timer: Ryan McDonagh, Leo Komarov, Ryan O'Reilly
Mini-net passer: Evgeny Kuznetsov
Puck control relay: Kris Letang
Stick handling: Dylan Larkin
Goalie Goals: Ben Bishop
Notes: The Western Conference’s first team is crazy talented, but those mini-nets can be trouble, which makes this event wide open. The margin of error is close to zero when it comes to that mini-game.
Points Available: Three. The fastest time in each heat gets one point, and fastest overall time gets the bonus.
Prediction: West’s Team One starts off strong but stumbles on the mini nets. The East’s first team takes the win on the strength of Backstrom’s slick performance hitting the tiny targets.
The final event will be the NHL Shootout, which has every player from each conference participating. There’s no single winner, but it will jack up the score of both teams. A point is awarded for each shooter who scores with the first and third shooters from each of the three rounds given a Discover branded puck. If the Discover shooters score, it is worth two points.