The 2022 NHL All-Star Weekend gets underway in Las Vegas on Friday (Feb. 4) with the Skills Competition, a spectacle that many fans anticipate more than the All-Star Game. Since its debut in 1990 – hosted by the Pittsburgh Penguins – the All-Star Skills Competition has featured many events, including the long-running Shooting Accuracy, Fastest Skater, and Hardest Shot.
Around 20 Edmonton Oilers have participated in the NHL All-Star Skills Competition, from Kevin Lowe and Mark Messier initially to Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid most recently. Here’s a look at the Oilers’ top performances.
1991, Shooting Accuracy
Making his final All-Star appearance as a member of the Oilers, Messier put on a show at the historic Chicago Stadium in 1991, making short work of the competition to win the shooting accuracy competition for the first time – he won it twice in his career.
The last of eight entrants to take his turn, Messier knew he had to better the performances of Cam Neeley and Mark Recchi, who were tied for the lead after each needed nine shots from between the dots to knock down the bull’s eye targets in the four corners of the net.
With a future and a former Oiler – Vincent Damphousse of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Wayne Gretzky of the Los Angeles Kings – feeding him passes, Messier hit all four targets in just five shots. When the last one fell, he turned around and gave a satisfied fist pump with trademark Messier cool. He was awarded a $2,500 cheque for winning the event.
Later that season, Messier was traded to the New York Rangers, where he signed a contract worth $13.5 million. The veteran center won his second shooting accuracy title in 1996 while playing for the Rangers.
2000, Breakaway Relay
In his first full season with the Oilers in 1999-2000, goaltender Tommy Salo earned his first selection to the All-Star Game. It was the first midseason classic of the millennium, and All-Star 2000 was held in Toronto, the city that had hosted the first All-Star Game in 1947, and at the sparkling Air Canada Centre, which had just opened in 1999 and featured the unprecedented retirement of Gretzky’s No. 99 league-wide.
Goalies are usually under siege at the All-Star Game, and the skills contest is no different, particularly the Breakaway Relay, which, in 2000, had goaltenders face six continuous attempts to score by skaters breaking in from the blue line.
Salo took the net for Team World against Team North America in Round 1 of the now-discontinued event, stopping shots by Rob Blake, Chris Chelios, Scott Stevens, Scott Gomez, and Tony Amonte; only John LeClair managed to put the puck behind him.
With five saves and one goal against, Salo had the best showing in the challenge. In the overall goaltender competition, which combined their scores from the breakaway relay and rapid fire event, Salo made 13 saves, one less than the winner, Mike Richter of the Rangers.
2017-2019, Fastest Skater
The fastest skater is one of the original and simplest All-Star Skills events, with contestants skating a timed lap around the rink, and the skater with the fastest time wins.
In his All-Star debut at Los Angeles’ Staples Center in 2017, McDavid completed his lap in 13.310 seconds, becoming the third Oiler to win the event, following in the strides of Shawn Horcoff (2008) and Andrew Cogliano (2009).
The following year, in Tampa Bay, the Oilers captain became the first player to capture the fastest skater title in consecutive years, racing to victory in 13.454 seconds. In 2019, with 13.378 seconds clocking at the SAP Center in San Jose, McDavid joined Mike Gartner (who had the best time in 1990, 1993, and 1996) as the only three-time faster skater champ.
But McDavid’s bid to become the first to win the event four times was upset in 2020 by New York Islanders’ speedster Matthew Barzal, who crossed the line in 13.175 seconds, four one-hundredths of a second faster than McDavid, who skated his lap in 13.215 seconds.
Draisaitl & McDavid Try to Strike it Rich in Vegas
McDavid will look to regain his title on Friday, against a fastest skater field that includes Rangers forward Chris Kreider, Los Angeles forward Adrian Kempe, Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor, Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, St. Louis Blues forward Jordan Kyrou, Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin, and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar.
Also on Friday, Draisaitl will aim to become the first Oiler since Mark Messier 31 years ago to win the shooting accuracy event. The German center will face stiff competition from Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho, Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel, Anaheim Ducks forward Troy Terry, Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau, Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron and forward Jonathan Marchessault of the host Vegas Golden Knights.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.